Australia’s first mental health literacy and action program, which seeks to address the mental health and wellbeing needs of young people at school, is set to be delivered by researchers at Monash University.
In addition, the Monash research team involved in the project is seeking expressions of interest from schools across Victoria to take part in this program.
First developed by Professor Joanne Riebschleger in the United States, this program has been adapted for Australian schools as a preventative approach to increase knowledge of mental health in the classroom and develop coping mechanisms for students, such as help seeking skills and resilience.
The research team, including Alexandra Marinucci, a PhD candidate who is leading the program evaluation as part of her doctoral dissertation, will work alongside other provisional psychologists to deliver the program. The program is supervised by board-endorsed educational psychologists Dr Christine Grove and Dr Kelly-Ann Allen, all from Monash University’s Faculty of Education.
During the peak of the pandemic in 2020, a headspace report found one in three young people experienced a high level of distress. This compares with data from before the pandemic that found one in seven young people were affected by a mental illness. Along with these alarming figures, young people are five times less likely to seek help when distressed.
“Not only are we in a global pandemic, we are in a mental health pandemic. It is critical we shift our focus to preventative approaches to mental health care and support through early intervention and increasing mental health literacy of our population,” Alexandra said.
“We want to introduce a structured program and collaborate with schools to focus on mental health literacy and action. We want to make this program feasible, relevant and sustainable so it can be implemented widely in the future.”
Stigma or a lack of knowledge are common barriers to young people getting the help they need or helping others. This program seeks to improve young people’s mental health, coping and resilience through an evidenced-based 10-session prevention program at school.
This program aims to not only improve students’ mental health, but also include school staff in effectively supporting childhood mental health. It is critical to collaborate with key stakeholders to ensure mental health and wellbeing programs will work in the real world.
Research shows young people prefer to go to informal methods for help, such as family, friends or the internet.
“Sometimes the internet does not provide accurate or age-appropriate information and so we want to give young people correct and practical information, also strategies to support their mental health that could benefit them now and into the future,” Alexandra said.
“Given the increased levels of distress experienced by young people exacerbated by COVID-19, we are in a critical moment to shift our focus to a preventative approach that directly promotes positive youth mental health. Evidence-based school programs surrounding mental health for youth are lacking and this project seeks to change that.”
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