Schooling and the Mental Health Crisis
How can relational and nature-based model make inroads?
Some of Eric’s students attend a week-long camp building social and emotional competencies
We know that mental health is the biggest current challenge faced by our young people and that its links to educational success are causational. 23% of all young people and 31% of Indigenous young people have a probable serious mental illness (Youth Mental Health Report, Mission Australia 2016). Other student cohorts are also particularly vulnerable including LGBTIQ+ youth, refugee youth, students with parents experiencing mental illness, and youth experiencing homelessness.
The System Response
We also know that an effective response to this issue is twofold. Targeted supports for students experiencing low to acute mental illness in conjunction with enhanced prevention measures.
The system is attempting to respond at both levels. From the targeted standpoint, in October last year, the Victorian Government announced the Mental Health in Schools Program, allowing all secondary schools access to a mental health professional. The funding of $51.2m, will enable schools to employ counsellors, youth workers or psychologists for between one and five days a week. The case load of these mental health professionals is usually too high to meet the needs of students and therefore students either miss out or are referred to external providers.
At a prevention level the Respectful Relationships, SAFE Schools and other anti-bullying wellbeing curriculum are being implemented to various degrees of success. The challenge is imbedding these values within the school culture and not confining them to a one-hour session each week. Of course there are those who would argue that it is beyond the scope of schools to provide a mental health service and that teachers are not qualified to be delivering mental health curriculum.
The Global Village School Response
At Global Village School we accept that the link between wellbeing and learning is evidenced and that access to mental health services and a culture of wellness is a precondition to academic success. We take responsibility for this social issue and work in partnership with families and community to tackle it proactively.
Our school model proposes a week-long camp at the start of each year to build deep social connectedness and emotional grit. We also propose a 1:17 teacher-student ratio, where (like primary school) that teacher leads the learning throughout most of the day, bringing in expert content teachers as needed. Instead of seeing hundreds of students a day as many mainstream teachers do our teachers will intimately know each of their students, providing a secure and safe attachment (a condition of trauma- informed pedagogy). This preventative measure, alongside our engaging approach to curriculum delivery which imbeds social-emotional learning in every subject ensures low- level mental health challenges are managed and referrals to targeted services can be reduced. We will employ a full-time counsellor and youth workers and the small size of our school (fewer than 150 students) means that their case-load should be more manageable reducing external referrals further. The good news is, this model pays for itself and is on par with or cheaper than current models as our business case (soon to be released) will demonstrate.