A study has found that while the vast majority of educators consider students’ mental health as important as academic achievement, 22 per cent report that they do not feel confident handling mental health issues.
Furthermore, beyondblue, which conducted the nationwide survey of 600 teachers and principals, found that almost half did not have the time or the resources to address students’ mental wellbeing.
These figures are alarming considering reports from the NSW Department of Education that up to two children per week have considered self-harm related to bullying, anxiety or depression. It’s believed mental health affects a quarter of today’s school kids and beyondblue says teachers can play an important role in reaching these children.
Beyondblue Board Director Julia Gillard says, “Evidence suggests half of mental health conditions emerge by age 14, so this work with impressionable young people in the school environment is vitally important”.
To address the lack of skills in this area, the mental health awareness charity has revised and relaunched its MindMatters initiative, which provides a framework for creating a whole-school mental-health strategy.
The program is built on the following pillars: positive school community; resilience skills; family involvement; and support for those students experiencing mental health difficulties, and is designed to address attitudes, beliefs and behaviours associated with mental health problems.
While this program is certainly a step in the right direction, the fact remains that many Australian teachers are overworked and under pressure. A Monash University study found lack of support plus heavy administration and compliance demands took a toll on teachers, with one in four experiencing burnout. Many teachers may now be wondering how they are going to fit their students’ mental wellbeing into their day as well.
Over to you: Do you believe teachers should improve their skills in recognising and dealing with mental health issues? Are you or were you a teacher? Do you consider a students’ mental health a teacher’s responsibility?