Returning students' mental health needs monitoring

A comprehensive online resource to help children to stay mentally healthy is now live.
May 26, 2020
Mental health
Back to school mental health resource

A Macquarie University survey that found 60 per cent of parents and 88 per cent of teachers are concerned about children’s mental health during the COVID-19 crisis. 

With children returning to school, the university has launched a new website for teachers and parents to support those with mental health concerns including anxiety and depression. 

Macquarie’s Centre for Emotional Health and School of Education surveyed students, parents, carers, teachers, schools and health professionals, and identified the need for a comprehensive online resource to help children to stay mentally healthy during this time.

The result is the  COVID-19: We’ve got this covered! website for teachers and parents which is now live.

“Results from the national mental health survey of children and young people indicate that in over 40 per cent of families in which the child had sought help for an emotional or behavioural problem, it was a school staff member that suggested the child may need help. Importantly, half of the children that met criteria for a mental disorder in the survey had actually reported receiving informal support from school staff and the bulk of this informal support was from the teacher,” says the Director of Macquarie University’s Centre for Emotional Health, Prof Jennie Hudson.

“It is clear that in Australia teachers play an important role in recognising and supporting children and young people with mental disorders. Nonetheless, teachers receive little to no training to recognise anxiety and depression in their students. One of the critical things we need to do is to provide more training to educators and school staff to help support them in their roles.” 

Mental health issues are common in Australia, they stem from both genetics and environment. Many Australians, one in two, will at some point across their life struggle with maintaining good mental health. For children and young people, the national estimates are that around one in seven children and teenagers experience a mental disorder. One of the most common mental health problems is anxiety disorder.

The warning signs that are observable at school might include: school absences; leaving the classroom unexpectedly; asking for pass-outs for certain activities (speeches, presentations, exams, tests); being teary; asking many reassurance-seeking questions, often repetitive “Is this ok?” “How do I do this?” “Is this right?”; not being motivated to participate in activities; being quiet in the class and not asking or answering questions.

“There are many factors that impact whether a young person develops a mental health disorder. Part of it is hereditary. For some mental health disorders, the genetic component is much stronger. But for anxiety and depression, the environment a child grows up in can have a significant impact on the extent to which these problems might emerge. For example, the degree to which educators and parents/carers respond to a child’s emotional needs can have a significant impact on whether these problems continue,” Prof Hudson says. 

 “When this distress is happening on a daily basis, and/or it stops the person from connecting with friends, participating in learning activities or participating in other important activities then it might be important to encourage the young person to seek help. 

 “Some of the most common mental health problems include anxiety and depression. Feeling worried, scared or sad are universal human experiences and are not mental health problems on their own. In fact, they are very normal.  Particularly at the moment with the COVID-19 pandemic, it is expected that young people might feel a bit more worried, stressed or sad than usual.

“Understanding child and youth mental health should be a part of both pre-service and ongoing training for teachers and educators. Educators and school staff play a critical role in the lives of young people. Understanding the key issues will go a long way in supporting children and young people with mental disorders and may also play an important part in prevention,” Prof Hudson says.

The website provides freely accessible, evidence-based information for Australian families and schools and has been designed specifically for those adults, teens and children in most need of support.

Some of the topics on the website for parents and educators include:

  • How can I help my child if they are anxious?
  • How do I manage screen time?
  • How can I help my child if they are down or withdrawn?
  • How can I help my students learn independently and stay motivated?
  • How do I know if a student is not coping?!