Students’ mental health is a big issue for schools – but teachers should only be part of the solution

The school is a great place to work with children on mental health. It is crucial to do this since about 1 in 7 young Australians have a mental disorder. This includes issues such as mental distressanxiety and depressionschool refusing, and complicated trauma.

The ratio of school counselors and psychologists can make it difficult for students. In NSW public schools, for example, there’s about one counselor per 750 students.

Teachers are, therefore, often viewed as the frontline providers of mental health. This is especially true since the beginning of the pandemic.

What can teachers reasonably be expected to do to support the mental health of their students?

Read more: ‘It’s almost like a second home’: why students want schools to do more about mental health.

Training is patchy

The types of mental healthcare services offered by schools and the people who perform this function are not consistent.

Some schools may have psychologists or counselors on staff, while other schools might have non-government and Department of Health personnel who could come to schools to provide a targeted program or support for at-risk children. But availability is an issue.

There is no standard mental health training provided to new teachers. In many teacher education programs, mental health is not addressed explicitly. It is often included as a one-day training or as part of another subject. It is more likely that the level of training students receive depends on a lecturer’s interest in mental illness than needs.

Even then, it is often more about supporting the well-being of students than it is about addressing mental illnesses.

Existing teachers can access resources and professional training on mental health. These resources are also not applied consistently.

There are not enough school psychologists and counselors to help students. Shutterstock

Teachers lack confidence

It is not surprising that despite taking mental health very seriously, many teachers report feeling a lack of confidence in supporting the mental health of their students. In a 2017 study conducted in the United States, nearly 50% of teachers said they received insufficient mental health training. 85% stated they would like to receive further training on mental health issues.

Even experienced professionals in mental health feel incompetent when dealing with their clients’ cognitive needs.

If qualified mental health professionals feel this way, we should carefully consider our expectations for teachers working in the mental healthcare space.

What can teachers do to help?

Teachers play a vital role in promoting the mental health of students. This must be done in the context of teaching.

This can be achieved by creating a supportive, positive learning environment that supports the individual needs and abilities of students. Teachers can help students build a positive identity and boost their self-esteem when they give them genuine chances to succeed in class. Teachers can foster positive peer relationships and have positive relationships with students.

Teachers should be able to recognize students who may have mental health issues and also know about possible referral options. Teachers should also maintain an open and honest relationship with caregivers.

Read more: School principals are reaching crisis point, pushed to the edge by mounting workloads, teacher shortages, and abuse.

What more can be done?

Much more work needs to be undertaken in the area of mental health at schools. It is logical to increase funding for school psychologists and counselors. We should also look at ways to better integrate mental health services, such as the Department of Health Headspace, into schools.

This is not a simple solution, as there are difficulties with recruitment and supply.

A consistent national approach must be taken to the mental health curriculum for teacher training.

To manage expectations and better support students, the role of school-based mental health services must be clearly defined.

Teachers are professionals who have a helping nature and will support their students however they can. Teachers need to know how to help students learn while considering mental health.

Teachers are not mental health professionals, but policymakers and school communities should be aware of this.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *