By Laura Allison
There are growing concerns for the mental health of children and young people, with Australian research suggesting that as many as one in seven young people – aged four to 17 – were assessed as having at least one mental disorder in the previous 12-month period (Lawrence et al, 2015).
Many other young people may not meet the criteria for a mental disorder but experience psychological distress and mental health problems. The consequences of such ill-being for young people can be profound not only affecting their mental health, but also their learning.
Catholic Education Western Australia (CEWA) is committed to fostering Catholic pastoral communities and includes in its 2019-2021 strategic direction a specific focus on staff and student safety and wellbeing.
It is significant that the wellbeing of staff is specifically mentioned, with a large body of research indicating educators and principals are also at risk as a profession for poor mental health. By prioritising this, not only will staff hopefully experience greater mental health, but their students will benefit as a result of their teachers functioning at their best.
Schools traditionally have been an ideal setting to provide early intervention for young people when mental health issues emerge – school psychologists, social workers, counsellors and youth workers, as well as key pastoral staff do an extraordinary job in responding to such concerns.
Schools are further supported by the CEWA Psychology Team who provide both training, consultation, and psychological services in several areas including mental health and assist with responding in times of crisis.
CEWA Child Safe Team and initiatives such as the partnership with the Australian Childhood Foundation for the Trauma Informed Schools Project are just two examples of how schools are being supported to ensure students feel physically and psychologically safe.
It is important that we do not limit our understanding of mental health as purely mental illness intervention, however, given the absence of mental ill health does not necessarily indicate the presence of good mental health.
As such, aside from encouraging help seeking and providing treatment pathways for mental ill health, we should also focus on teaching students and staff the skills to promote their wellbeing and create school environments that support this.
Many schools are doing incredible work in the wellbeing space, Loreto Primary School, Nedlands, launched its “Blossoming Program” this year, adopting a whole school approach to student wellbeing with all students participating in wellbeing classes.
Students learn practices such as how they understand and utilise their strengths and notice the strengths of others, a powerful skill given we are wired to notice and give greater attention towards the negative.
La Salle College, Middle Swan, host an annual mental health fair in partnership with “Act Belong Commit”. This fair is a comprehensive health campaign to encourage activities linked with good mental health and to connect the school community with services and resources that promote wellbeing, as well as provide support when mental health issues emerge.
There are many strategies supported by scientific research that schools can adopt that are designed to promote wellbeing.
The nature of Catholic schools, by their design, create a strong foundation for wellbeing given our faith and spiritualty, our Catholic identity that fosters belonging, and our calling to humbly be of service and help others.
We are now building on these foundations so that individually and collectively our school communities can further thrive.
Laura Allison (BSc, BPsych, MPsych, ProfCertEd,PosEd) is a registered psychologist currently employed as the Coordinator of the Psychology Team for CEWA and a PhD Candidate with the University of Melbourne, researching systems level wellbeing within schools.
From pages 10 to 11 of Issue 20: ‘Wellbeing: Building stronger communities that flourish as a whole’ of The Record Magazine