With more pressure on young people than ever before, we take a look at what’s being done in schools to help keep our kids’ mental health in check.
School years should be a safe time for young people to make mistakes, try different things and make friends, but the pressures of working out identity, achieving good grades and dealing with life outside of school can make that a big challenge.
It’s super important to set young people up with the coping mechanisms and emotional connections to tackle life’s many challenges– which is why the South Australian Government has a number of preventive and rehabilitative education-based programs in place to support the mental health of school kids.
One example is the School Mental Health Service, which places mental health practitioners in up to 65 public schools.
What are school mental health practitioners?
School mental health practitioners provide an early intervention mental health service in schools. The service is designed to support young people who may be experiencing mild to moderate mental health problems and intervene early in the development of more serious mental health concerns.
The services they provide include:
- Assessing student mental health needs and concerns
- Supporting students to develop strategies to manage distress and maintain their mental health
- Supporting referrals and linking to external support services as required
- Developing the mental health literacy of their school communities.
Practitioners work together with students and their families, education staff, other support service providers and external agencies to help young people improve their psychological health and emotional wellbeing.
We speak to multidisciplinary youth mental health practitioner Shannon Isaacs
Shannon Isaacs has been working for the School Mental Health Service since the pilot stage in term 4 of 2022 and has seen the benefits of a stable presence of mental health support in schools through her first-hand experience.
“For schools it has been helpful. It means we are visible to the community of the school; students know who we are, or they at least know one of their friends who has accessed support through us,” she says. “That encourages them to do the same.”
The service supports the vital role that teachers and wellbeing staff have been performing as mentors, often giving guidance outside of the classroom. Teachers will still be valued as instrumental in the development of their students which so often extends beyond academic performance.
In highly social environments where bullying, social media pressures, and competition can discourage young people from being open, this program “reduces the stigma around struggling or accessing services,” says Shannon.
What do young people have to worry about!?
Everyone’s circumstances are different, of course, but being a young person today is more intense than it ever has been. There are so many things fighting for their attention, their social relationships are a constant worry, all while they are working out who they are and what they want to do with their lives.
Shannon says she works with a “wide range of issues, which is why comprehensive assessments are important because it enables a holistic, community approach to supporting individuals”.
“Working with young people who still have developing brains, they need lots of scaffolding support to cope with stresses in their life. We can support them to promote change and manage mental health, but we need to consider ways to implement change in their environment with parents, carers, and the school,” Shannon says.
I know a young person I’m worried about…
The most important thing is to let struggling young people know that you are there. Using Mental Health Awareness month (October) is a great start, but the best support anyone can offer is stability and a cooperative network approach.
Don’t paint anyone out of the story – it is the responsibility of everyone to support our young people. It takes a village, as they say. This is why the School Mental Health Service is so instrumental.
Shannon highlights the benefit of taking a family-based approach: “We understand it can be an overwhelming time for families when there are mental health difficulties,” she says.
“We want to upskill parents and carers to help them understand how they can best support their child. Parents need to understand they are an important part in the network of support as well.”
If you want to find out more, listen to Episode 19 of Hot Topics where Matt, Anna, and Tim are joined by Lisa Doyle, a School Mental Health Service practitioner, to discuss what is being done in SA schools to support mental health.
Are you struggling or do you know someone who is? Make sure to reach out to one of the many mental health services available:
Beyond Blue: 1300 22 36 46
LifeLine: 13 11 14