Schools have been flagged as an ideal, universal platform to better support the mental health and wellbeing of children. The MCRI Mental Health in Primary Schools pilot is recommended by The Royal Commission into Victoria’s Mental Health system and will expand to 26 schools in 2021 to help teachers more confidently support children’s mental health.
Mental health difficulties affect up to 10-20% of children and adolescents, with half of all mental illnesses beginning by the age of 14. Given the opportunity that childhood affords to intervene early before mental health difficulties become entrenched, and that nearly all children attend school, The Mental Health in Primary Schools (MHiPS) project was designed to build the capacity of schools and educators to address mental health issues. The project has been timely, with three recent policy reports flagging the education sector as a setting that could be used to provide mental health support to students.
MHiPS involves the development of a new role in primary schools, a Mental Health and Wellbeing Coordinator (MHWC), who participates in a bespoke training program delivered by our partners, the Melbourne Graduate School of Education. Importantly, the MHWC is from a teaching background and are an additional resource for the school, without a teaching load. During the co-design process of the role, these characteristics were deemed crucial for the successful long-term embedding and sustainability of the MHWC model.
The MHWC model was trialled in 2020 in 10 schools across the North West Victoria region, with participants providing overwhelmingly positive feedback.
The Age recently published an article on the MHiPS project and revealed that following the success of the MHiPs pilot, the project would be expanded to include 26 schools across metropolitan and regional north and south west Victoria this year.
Professor Frank Oberklaid, of the Centre for Community Child Health and Murdoch Children’s Research Institute was interviewed for The Age article. He said the program was designed with teachers to make something practical and effective they could actually use.
“Teachers now see this is a core role for them but they say ‘I need more resources in the school’. They might not have the time or confidence or expertise to do it all themselves,” he said.
The Royal Commission into Victoria’s Mental Health System has now recommended broader implementation of MHiPS should the 2021 trial result in favourable outcomes for teachers (reduced burden and stress, increased confidence, knowledge and skills related to student mental health). Longer term, we hope that the model will have a positive impact on students mental health and wellbeing.
In parallel to the MHiPS project, we are exploring three sub-projects which will inform broader implementation of MHiPS – testing a multi-disciplinary, teleconferencing model of support for regional, rural and remote schools; trialling the MHiPS model in Catholic education settings; and developing and testing a mental health continuum to help build a common language for child mental health.