Depression, anxiety and behavioural disorders emerge early and can be prevented in part with a greater focus on mental wellbeing in the classroom.
What’s more, recent research shows that one in five preschool children are developmentally vulnerable in one of more aspects of mental wellbeing before starting school in Australia, and in any given year, one in seven children between the ages of four and 17 will experience a mental health condition.
“With half of all mental health conditions in Australia emerging before the age of 14, it’s likely several children and young people in any one educator’s care will be affected by a mental health condition. Yet the research shows that in many cases these conditions are not inevitable. They can, in fact, be prevented,” explains Dr Martin, a clinical psychologist from Prevention United, a charity dedicated to preventing mental health conditions.
With those statistics in mind Martin and fellow Prevention United colleague and public health advocate, Dr Stephen Carbone, developed a unique new resource for educators, across the early learning, primary and secondary space, to help maximise the mental wellbeing of their students and prevent the development of mental health conditions.
The One Step Ahead Toolkit has been produced in partnership with Winc, a provider of education supplies in Australia. The toolkit is unique in that it shifts the focus from just the identification and support of students with mental health conditions, to include prevention strategies designed to build and foster mental wellbeing.
The toolkit covers the eight pillars that enable educators to work across the mental health continuum and includes lots of useful information and practical tips.
“What many do not appreciate is that teachers are in a unique position to help reduce the likelihood of children and young people developing mental health conditions. It’s not just about reducing risk of conditions either. There are numerous secondary benefits associated with the promotion of mental wellbeing - increased creativity and productivity is just the start. Better study and work outcomes, better relationships and lower rates of physical health conditions are some of the other benefits attached to creating a mentally healthy environment,” Martin added.
According to Carbone, this approach isn’t any different to the longstanding, proactive approach schools have had to physical health promotion. “Think about the effort schools have put into reducing students’ exposure to UV radiation to prevent skin cancers, as well as promoting physical activity and healthy eating to tackle obesity, diabetes and heart disease.
“It should be just as important to focus on mental health promotion as physical health promotion,” Carbone explained.
The One Step Ahead Toolkit is available at www.winc.com.au/services/healthy-mindful-minds. Hard copies are also being distributed to all schools and early learning centres currently serviced by Winc, free of charge.
A series of in-classroom resources including activities and posters are also available. In addition, a series of free webinars, on the topics of Educator Self-Care and Managing Anxiety in the Classroom, are being held throughout October. For details www.winc.com.au/services/healthy-mindful-minds.