Every public secondary and specialist school in Victoria will now have access to vital mental health support at school following the state government’s roll out of a $51.2m mental health initiative.
On Monday, Victorian Education Minister James Merlino announced that The Mental Health Practitioners initiative will be finalised by Term Four ─ a year earlier than originally committed to, in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
A growing body of research has shown that schools are struggling under the weight of worsening student mental health issues.
A recent nationwide study of teachers found more than 70% saw the last 12-18 months as having a significant impact on student mental health and wellbeing.
A staggering 98% of teachers surveyed said poor mental health negatively impacts on their students’ ability to succeed at school, but less than half of all respondents felt well-equipped to respond to mental health issues in their students, with lack of school resources (time/staff/space) cited as the primary challenge (42%).
“Students, teachers, families and school communities have been incredibly resilient throughout this pandemic ─ but we know it’s been incredibly difficult for many of our kids, and we’re making sure they’re supported while studying,” Minister Merlino said.
“We’ve laid out our plan to get students back into the classroom this term, but we know some kids will need more support – and this program will make it easy for them to reach out and get the mental health care they deserve.”
The support will enable schools to employ a practitioner for up to five days a week – with more than 250 suitably qualified and registered mental health practitioners already working across the state’s secondary schools.
The mental health practitioners can include psychologists, social workers, occupational therapists and mental health nurses delivering the unique needs of each student cohort.
Supporting around 188,000 students, these practitioners offer counselling and early intervention services, support students with complex needs, connect students to broader allied and community health services and deliver whole-school mental health promotion and prevention activities – including during periods of remote learning.
Dr Michael Carr-Gregg, one of Australia's highest profile psychologists, says that as schools come out of lockdown it is important that young people are taught social and emotional competencies.
“Never before has it been more important for young people to know things like anger management, problem-solving, decision making and conflict resolution skills,” Dr Carr-Gregg told The Educator.
“This is an unrivalled opportunity to acknowledge the importance of social and emotional competencies and their utility in building resilience.”
Dr Carr-Gregg said young people should also be taught about positive self-talk and the importance of the old adage: “See life as it is but focus on the good bits”.
“It’s been a tenant of positive psychology in education for a long time but now we need all schools to get on board and emphasise these important mindsets,” he said.
“We need to be mindful of building those ‘islands of competence’ – things like art, music, dance, music and sport, which all play big role in helping build resilience because they’re the mechanisms through which young people can figure out who they are and have confidence.”