Research suggests teachers do not have the tools or resources readily available to them to address mental health concerns among students.
Half of the country’s teachers believe that they have no time to focus on the mental health of students, a nationwide survey of teachers has found.
The survey of 600 principals and teachers by mental health charity beyondblue found that while almost 100 per cent of them considered mental health to be as important as academic achievement, 22 per cent did not believe it was their responsibility to address the mental health of students and 47 per cent did not have the time to dedicate to achieving positive mental health outcomes.
The research suggested that teachers did not have the tools or resources readily available to them to address mental health concerns. Only one-third responded that their school gave training for staff members to support student mental health.
Former Australian prime minister Julia Gillard said that mental health work in schools was crucial for young students.
“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,” the beyondblue board director said.
Woolooware High School in Sydney’s south launched a MindMatters initiative to help students struggling with mental health.
“We could see that we needed to work more explicitly in the mental health area,” principal Marianne Siokos said, maintaining the mental wellbeing of students was definitely a part of the day-to-day role of teachers.
“It is everyone’s issue; it is not just about presenting a curriculum to students, it’s about giving them support and resilience”.
The initiative enables schools to make mental health a priority, by giving them online training that is manageable for time-poor teachers.
“MindMatters is like a support scaffold that secondary schools can use to create their own unique mental health strategy, choosing the parts that they wish to implement and keeping the best of what they already have in place,” beyondblue chairman Jeff Kennett said.
Those teachers trained through the online modules would be able to work with school counsellors in improving mental health outcomes across the state
Under current NSW funding arrangements, there is only one counsellor for every 750 students, despite a $80.7 million funding injection from the NSW government in March.
Last year, Department of Education data revealed that up to two children per week were threatening to injure themselves or self-harm as a result of mental health issues and bullying.
In April, mental health organisation Headspace called on federal Health Minister Sussan Ley to introduce suicide prevention awareness programs into primary schools after statistics revealed that suicide remained the number one cause of death for Australians aged between 15 and 24.
Headspace chief executive Chris Tanti said more needed to be done in rural areas where the rate of youth suicide remained significantly higher.
NSW Education MInister Adrian Piccoli told Fairfax Media that the government had allocated $8 million to mental health programs across 15 troubled schools in north-west NSW.