Youth Advisory Board member
Good mental health is extremely important, especially at school. To most of us, schools are places where unnecessary pressure is put upon us to achieve well or do things that we simply might not be able to do. However, to the rest of us, school is fun! We can see our friends, learn new things and stay engaged during lessons.
Why is there such a different outlook on school for so many people?
The answer is that these people probably go to schools that largely support students’ mental health.
How can we support students’ mental health at school?
Schools can support students’ mental health in numerous ways that are easy to implement in daily school life. Teachers can largely support students’ mental health as well - even just by postponing a test that’s stressing everyone in the class out so they can get a little more revision time, or by helping a student with something they don’t understand. Teachers could also talk to one another, and schedule assessments at different times so that the students aren’t being excessively piled with work (especially during these challenging times, where many students have been in lockdown doing online school for months). If every teacher endeavoured to support good mental health for their students by doing those two simple things (or even just one of them), students would feel much better about coming to school each day and much less worried about the mounting pressure of everything they have to do.
What support looks like
Support for students can be shown in multiple ways. Schools could make their counsellors, psychologists or psychiatrists more recognised and available for students, as many students may not know who their school psychologist/counsellor/psychiatrist even is. Schools could also talk about mental health and mental health support services at assemblies to ensure that the students know that there is help out there. Teachers can check in with their classes or individual students (this is extremely important now more than ever, as many students have been in lockdowns and have been doing remote learning for months) - this is very simple and could take less than a minute if the teacher/student is very busy. Students can also look out for fellow students - even just asking “R U OK?” and then listening to their answer can help a person feel better, and students often feel more comfortable talking to their peers rather than a psychologist or teacher (at least to start with).
The Australian Psychological Society (APS) has also ensured that each Victorian school has a school psychologist to make sure that no students are left behind. Before the pandemic, it was proven that 50% of lifelong mental health issues start before the age of 14, and that number may have increased due to the pandemic. This is only one of the reasons that school psychologists are extremely important, because not only do they offer support, they might also be able to make a massive difference in the school environment.
What support isn’t
Supporting students’ mental health is not a tedious task - it doesn’t take long, and won’t harm anybody. However, if people don't get the right support, they may feel worse.
R U OK? day has recently been acknowledged, and is a good example of how support can be both positive and negative. If you ask someone if they are OK, you need to listen to their answer - if you just ask them and then walk off, or talk over them, they might feel worse about their mental health. A report conducted by Mission Australia and the Black Dog Institute has found that over a quarter of young Australians suffer from mental health issues, and women are twice as likely as men to suffer from mental health. Many of these young people said that school was the biggest source of their problems - mainly concerning coping with stress and study problems. Many of these people also said that they had not gotten help because of ‘stigma and embarrassment’ and a ‘lack of support.’ If schools, in particular, could help to break down the stigma surrounding mental health, then the people who suffer from mental health problems may come forward and get help.
The benefits (to both teachers and students) of supporting mental health in schools:
If mental health was supported and talked about in schools, students may be more attentive in class, and retain more information because they are not as stressed about their studies. Teachers could also listen to what students need with their studies, like more revision time or a slightly shorter test, and might be able to help accommodate the students if their requests don’t compromise their education.
If mental health was supported and talked about at school, there might be fewer students with high stress and anxiety levels, which in turn would help them to learn more at school. Their grades might rise and they might retain more of what they learn, which will help them when it is time for tests/exams or in later life.
Even though mental health is being discussed more and more, it still might not be enough for some students to feel supported. If changes need to be made to support students (or teachers), try and make them. Take ideas to the school council, or the principal, or a teacher - anyone who can make the change you want at your school, or, if you think you need more information, the Internet can help you find out what you need. Remember that you don’t have to put up with unsatisfactory support - schools are entitled to the best support they can get.