Australia: Teachers warn they're overwhelmed by mental health problems in schools - PressFrom - Australia
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AustraliaTeachers warn they're overwhelmed by mental health problems in schools

23:45  24 august  2019
23:45  24 august  2019 Source:   theage.com.au

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Half of all state school teachers and staff in Victoria say they know of students in their school who have self-harmed in the past year, a survey has found.

Teachers in Victoria also said they were struggling to support students experiencing a host of mental health problems including anxiety, anger, depression and drug and alcohol abuse.

Fewer than half of the thousands of government school employees who took part in the survey said they believed their school had access to appropriate mental health services.

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The Victorian branch of the Australian Education Union surveyed more than 3500 government school teachers and staff in June about mental health issues, as part of its submission to the Andrews government’s royal commission into mental health services.

The survey results suggest poor mental wellbeing among students is impacting on the wider classroom environment, with 80 percent of respondents reporting that mental health-related issues had negatively affected student learning at their school.

The figure was even higher among VCE teachers who were surveyed, 85.1 per cent of whom said poor mental health among students was affecting the learning environment.

Australian Education Union branch president Meredith Peace said the results showed the state’s mental health system was failing students and teachers.

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“It is clear that mental health issues are having a significant impact on student learning achievement, with massive difficulties accessing support services and accessing timely services, for too many students,” Ms Peace said.

Teachers warn they're overwhelmed by mental health problems in schools © Alamy Four in five Victorian state school teachers said mental health issues were affecting the class environment.

The survey also found reported mental health problems were generally more pervasive in low socio-economic status schools.

For example, 91 per cent of teachers at poorer schools reported experiencing anger management issues among students, compared with 67 per cent of teachers at wealthier schools.

Drug and alcohol issues were also much more pervasive at poorer schools: 57 per cent of teachers at low-SES schools reported drugs and alcohol were affecting student wellbeing, compared with 27.7 per cent in high-SES schools.

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“The more disadvantaged a student or school is, the less likely it is for them to be able to access appropriate and timely care," Ms Peace said.

"Real steps must be taken to address this ongoing cycle of disadvantage and to support the wellbeing of students.”

Tim Ward is a veteran student wellbeing co-ordinator at Koo Wee Rup Secondary College, with 25 years’ experience in the role.

Mr Ward said the frequency with which students at the college were referred to him over mental health issues had soared, from about 120 per year five years ago to about 400 last year.

The school has about 960 enrolled students.

“In my first year as student wellbeing co-ordinator in 1995 I had to write a report about what I had done and I'd only seen one or two kids for cases of depression and anxiety – I saw eight kids yesterday,” Mr Ward said.

He said issues he dealt with ranged from students having problems with teachers and peers to those presenting with suicidal ideation and self-harm.

"The number of students presenting saying I want to end it all, that’s the most ever, and [there is] lots of self-harm, students cutting themselves on their legs and arms.”

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Mr Ward said students’ mental health issues affected the learning environment in a number of ways, including non-attendance, poor study habits, and anger, especially among boys.

“I’ve been doing this for a long time, but I often feel for young teachers coming into the profession," he said. "Their expectation was they would be teaching science or English, all of a sudden they’re confronted with all these mental health issues among students."

Koo Wee Rup Secondary College has trained seven of its staff in the Storm program (Skills-based training on suicide risk management), which identifies and supports students with suicidal ideation. It has also employed a Headspace youth mental health worker two days a week.

Laura is a year 12 student at Gisborne Secondary School, who helped to establish Live4Life, a rurally-based youth suicide reduction program, at the school.

Self-harm in schools is a "huge issue" and schools need more help to respond to students at risk, she said.

"I don’t think there is enough around to help solve it and for people to actually get support," Laura said.

"I have undergone my own mental health issues over the years and if it wasn't for a program like Live4Life I don’t know if I would have got the help I needed."

The education union's submission called for a full review of students’ access to mental health services, and the creation of a “mental health service access guarantee” to ensure no student falls through the gaps.

“Minimum standards would mean health providers, government and schools, early childhood settings and TAFE are compelled to work together to make sure that students can access the support they need, when they need it,” Ms Peace said.

James Merlino, Victoria's Minister for Education, said children were in the best position to learn when they were happy and healthy.

"Teachers, students and parents tell me that mental health is among their greatest concerns," Mr Merlino said.

"That's why we're rolling out mental health practitioners in all government secondary schools, from term 3 of this year."

The last state budget also included $65.5 million towards wellbeing initiatives in schools.

For support call Lifeline 13 11 14; Kids Helpline 1800 551 800; or Beyond Blue 1300 224 636.

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