Schools Should Monitor Students' Mental Wellbeing
With evidence showing the growing number of teenagers in societies being affected by clinical depression, should school administrators be truly proactive in tackling the issue head-on? Should schools conduct a regular, standardized testing on mental health and well-being of students at schools similar to that of literacy and numeracy tests?
Dr John Mendoza, the inaugural chair of the Australian National Advisory Council on Mental Health challenges the panel of experts during the Youth Heads Up Mental Health Forum through ABC TV with a question that opens up the need for a routine check of the social and emotional well-being of students in Australian, particularly Queensland schools just as schools measure the literacy and numeracy skills of young Australians.
"I think everyone here knows that we now routinely measure literacy and numeracy through our NAPLAN [National Assessment Program - Literacy and Numeracy] national testing regime..., should we also be looking at measuring the well-being of our students in schools? Should we be doing that routinely?" asks Mendoza.The question generate a subsequent positive responses from the speakers and mental health experts, including the State's health minister Cameron. Mr Dick says he would agree towards the implementation of emotional well-being tests in schools to identify students with potential health needs, then help could be tailored to such student.
Dr Mendoza further cites the advantage of such testing and monitoring on a regular basis to achieving the full potential of our youth. Mendoza makes implies that if schools are serious about giving students holistic approach to education, then schools should consider the benefits of multidisciplinary programs, combining literacy, numeracy, physical activity and well-being. He asks: "We know that physical activity and social and emotional learning, when that's universally implemented in schools, it has a protective effect in terms of the social and emotional well-being of students. We also know that doing those things doesn't compromise, it actually enhances academic performance. So why aren't we having in our Australian schools all our students accessing social and emotional learning and physical activity, and why aren't we monitoring it, just like we monitor numeracy and literacy."
School guidance counselor, Jenny Burke, from Alexandra Hills High School in Brisbane's Redland Bay area attests to the positive effects of students' exposure to successful well-being testing and monitoring programs, citing their 'Alex and Me' program as example. Talking with 612 ABC Brisbane Host Emma Griffiths, Burke explains that if a student does not have mental health issues, then that reduces impediments for such student to achieve his or her potential.
Burke being at the front line of wellness program in a school environment completely endorses the fact that student wellness enhances academic performance. She says: "If a student feels connected to the school, and if the student does not have barriers of negative mental health issues, he or she can work more towards their goals effectively rather than having the barriers of mental health in front of them."
Burke cites their school's health and well-being policy and genuine concern on the academic outcomes of their students. "We are also aware that the social and emotional wellness of our students has an impact on their future outcomes." She describes their wellness program at Alexandra Hills High Schools which runs for about five years now as a multidisciplinary approach. She reveals that it has a core learning program with junior students that involves weekly lessons on a variety of well-being topics, e.g. cyber-safety, healthy friendship, positive well-being to name a few.
Importantly Burke reveals good results of her school's wellness program. These include creating awareness of mental health and well-being matters as well as opening up conversation between families, students and support staff and teachers. Burke further explains: "I often find that it's the teachers on the ground that have conversation with young people as a result of 'Alex and Me' type of lessons and that then allows teachers to encourage students to seek help from the services of the school."
In running the wellness program at Alexandra Hills High School, guidance counselor Burke names associated support programs that students access alongside their wellness program: youth support coordinator, chaplain and a school nurse.
Recent data released by the Federal Health survey reveals that the number of Australian teenagers seeking help from the illness of depression has doubled between 2002 and 2007. Recent publication of kidshelpline.com.au 'Mental Health and Australia's Young' reveals a concerning reality on mental health issues among people in Australia, it was the second most common reason for contacting Kids Helpline, alongside suicide, particularly girls between the ages of 19 and 25. However, the hope that Kids Helpline General Manager of Counselling Services Wendy Protheroe sees is that although these data are disturbing, at least young people are willing to seek help.