The covid restrictions may have eased and the return to normal life has begun for many but the impact of the pandemic is still very much being felt in our schools and amongst our young people. There is now evidence that the pandemic has had long-term impacts on the mental health of our youth. (1) In our roles at schools and as youth support professionals, we are seeing higher levels of distress amongst young people than pre-covid and some professionals are calling this a mental health crisis. (2)
Schools are tasked with providing a stable and safe environment while they themselves face increased absenteeism, staff shortages, challenging academic targets, changing health regulations, and balancing the reestablishment of sport and extra curriculum provisions. The staff shortages and illness of both staff and students is proving difficult to implement the much-needed return to a consistent routine. Routines as we know help support wellbeing, and schools play an essential role in supporting students’ well-being and social and emotional development, (3) but the responsibility cannot fall solely on teachers’ shoulders. (4) This is where mentoring and mentors can help.
Research shows that young people who are mentored have lower levels of depression, higher levels of well-being and know how to find emotional support. They report greater levels of resilience and feel more confident and are more likely to finish school and make a positive post school transition. (5)
Mentoring that is consistent and reliable helps re-establish a sense of stability and routine for a young person, particularly now as schools face staff shortages due to covid illness and isolation. Mentoring can be part of the wider solution to supporting both school wellbeing teams and students with the re-engagement to school but it is not a replacement for professional help. Just like we would not send a young person to a counsellor or psychologist for companionship, so too should hold true for mentoring programs. (6) They are not a cure-all but can be part of a range of services that support the engagement of our youth into education.
Programs such as the Raise Youth Mentoring Program can be part of an early intervention strategy and provide an additional 15 hours of weekly support to the wellbeing team by providing up to 15 trained community volunteer mentors a week across 23 weeks – the equivalent of over 300 additional wellbeing hours per year, per school. The mentors provide an opportunity for young people to be supported by a positive, caring, non-judgemental adult who can provide a sense of stability, consistency, and reliability. As an early intervention model, mentors can identify when a young person may need more professional support, and together with the Raise Program Counsellor and the school, ensure that young person is able to access that support before more end up in crisis. Mentoring can be that safety net that sits alongside the amazing work our school wellbeing staff are providing ensuring more students don’t end up in crisis as a result of this pandemic.
Kathleen Vella, Director of Programs, Raise Foundation is one of Australia’s leading authorities on Youth Mentoring. Kathleen was the founding EO of the Australian Youth Mentoring Network, Australia’s first peak body for the youth mentoring sector. Responsible for establishing the Australian Youth Mentoring Benchmarks, Kathleen developed the minimum operational standards that all mentoring programs in Australia are encouraged to meet. Kathleen continues to consult privately in the sector alongside her position at Raise. As the Program Director at Raise, Kathleen is responsible for the implementation and successful delivery of over 188 youth mentoring programs nationwide and leads the growth strategy to offer Raise mentoring to every government high school in the country by 2025.
1 Harris, D., Seriamlu, S. Dakin, P. and Sollis, K. Kids at the Crossroads: Evidence and Policy to Mitigate the Effects of COVID-19. (2021). ARACY.
2 Tsirtsakis, A. (2020) “Pandemic’s mental health impact on young people a ‘national crisis’” The Royal Australian College of General Practitioners
3 Aldridge, J. M., & McChesney, K. (2018). The relationships between school climate and adolescent mental health and wellbeing: A systematic literature review. International Journal of Educational Research,88, 121-145.
4 Erivin, A (2021) The youth mental health crisis is real, but teachers can’t solve it alone https://www.evidencebasedmentoring.org/the-youthmental- health-crisis-is-real-but-teachers-cant-solve-it-alone/
5 DuBois, D. L., & Silverthorn, N. (2005). Natural mentoring relationships and adolescent health: Evidence from a national study. American journal of public health,95(3), 518-524.
6 Rhodes, J. (2022) “How mentoring programs can help address the youth mental health crisis”. The Chronicle of Evidence-Based Mentoring.