Schools to access new mental health resources

Schools to access new mental health resources

With October marking Mental Health Month in NSW, a new partnership is encouraging educators and students to learn more about this important issue and the positive roles they can play in addressing it.

The downloadable resources from Wayahead (the Mental Health Association of NSW) were developed in partnership with the NSW Department of Education and will be available to more than 3,000 schools across the state in October.

The school pack includes classroom guides for every year from Early Stage 1 to Stage 6 with a support activity card for HSC candidates and their families. Teachers can download detailed lesson plans and printable support resources which are classroom ready and can be used straight away.

The new partnership comes at a critical time. According to a national survey by Young Minds Matter, approximately one in seven Australian children aged between 4 and 17 have a mental health disorder with anxiety being one of the leading conditions.

Unfortunately, the national data is out of date, and the impact of COVID-19 and experiences of psychological distress in school aged children is suspected to be much higher than pre-pandemic levels.

Below, The Educator speaks to Wayahead CEO Sharon Grocott about the new resources and how they will help schools tackle the youth mental health crisis in 2023 and beyond.

TE: I understand the resources provided are mapped to the NSW PDHPE curriculum and General Capabilities. Can you share some words on how school leaders can effectively integrate these resources into their school’s curriculum?

Schools will be able to directly incorporate the Mental Health Month Schools Pack resources into their curriculum. Flexibility is built in– the resources can be used in Wellbeing or PDHPE lessons. The lessons have clear instructions for teachers, key take away messages for students and classroom-ready printable resources which support the learning and build concepts. The mapping work is done so that integrating the resources into lesson planning satisfies the PDHPE self-management skill outcomes and the General Capabilities outcomes- expressing thoughts and emotions, participating in activities in school in meaningful ways, managing themselves, relating to others and developing empathy.

TE: How can school leaders play a role in ensuring that the impact of these resources is long-lasting, even beyond Mental Health Month?

School leaders can ensure the continued impact of these resources by incorporating the simple breathing activities, which are included in all lessons, into the school day. This normalises self-care and builds emotional self-regulation skills in students. The Tree of Support, My Mental Health first aid kit and Looking after my mental health activities, and the Ask, Listen, and Validate allyship cards and posters can be used in ongoing wellbeing activities at any time teachers feel they are appropriate. Student work can also be displayed and referenced at school to continue to promote help seeking behaviour beyond MHM.

TE: An emphasis on allowing students to express their thoughts and feelings is evident in the resources. What is a successful approach school leaders can use to create an environment where students feel safe and encouraged to discuss mental health openly?

It is important that school leaders nurture a learning environment and school climate in which students feel safe and encouraged to discuss mental health openly. A positive and strong trust relationship between teachers and students is essential for students to openly express their thoughts and feelings.  It’s recommended that school leaders also ensure appropriate supports are in place so that students understand they can remove themselves from uncomfortable conversations and that they can make disclosures privately and safely and seek support.  Ongoing communication with parents and carers, and their inclusion in Mental Health Month activities and mental health education across the year, will contribute to developing a whole of community support network for students.

TE: Educators will want to know they can feel comfortable and confident in using these resources. How can school leaders support staff in understanding and leveraging these materials most effectively in the classroom?

The Wayahead Mental Health Month Schools Pack includes easy to use resources with clear learning intentions and take away messages as well as detailed instructions for each activity. We want teachers to feel comfortable and confident using the resources. We understand that among teachers there is a range of experience in facilitating learning activities around mental health as well as understanding child and youth mental health issues.  It is recommended that school leaders encourage Stage teachers to collaborate together in the preparation and delivery of the Mental Health Schools Pack lessons and resources and in this way share knowledge, ideas and expertise with each other.