Mental health for classroom call

Bronwyn Milkins believes a subject purely based around mental health in schools would be beneficial. Photo Ines Pandžić
A subject based purely on mental health may help students cope, says an expert. Lachlan Ballingall reports.

Schools across Australia should consider introducing a subject about mental health to give students a proper education around the topic, according to an expert.

Bronwyn Milkins, a mental health speaker and researcher, said it would be beneficial to have a subject purely based around mental health.

“We have physical health as a subject, don’t we? It’s ludicrous to not have mental health education,” said Ms Milkins.

“We know people between the age of 18 and 24 – one in four of them are going to have a mental health problem.”

Ms Milkins also said it would help students understand when a friend might not be 100 per cent.

“A lot of people don’t know how to start a conversation with a mate when it comes to discussing their mental health,” said Ms Milkins.

“They can learn the basics through a class at school.”

Zoie Carroll, the Queensland Young Achiever of the Year and founder of Zottie Dottie, an initiative set up to destigmatise mental health, said the topic is just as important as learning about English and Maths.

“Just as we learn to read, write and add up numbers, we need to be able to identify our emotions and learn ways to overcome adversity, encourage resilience and make sure that young Australians know where to go to seek professional help and support services,” said Ms Carroll.

“I remember when I was at school, we were tested on our ability to run well.

“I think that our mental health is just as important, if not more important than our ability to outrun each other in a sprint test.”

Ryan Atkinson, a mental health advocate, said that while schools don’t do enough around mental health, there are other ways to get the message across.

“I don’t think there should be a specific subject for mental health,” said Mr Atkinson.

“Students are becoming more aware about mental health even without a subject purely based around the topic. Not necessarily through the classroom, but through the news and events.”

Mr Atkinson says funding is the main issue when it comes to schools and mental health.

“Most schools do have a councillor or someone students can talk to, but the problem is there is only one councillor at the school more times than not,” said Mr Atkinson.

“Schools only have one and it’s for around 800 students.”

A study from Mission Australia shows that a lot of young Australians navigate the internet for help when it comes to their mental health.

Ms Milkins said that while teachers spend a lot of time with students, it isn’t their job to identify if a student may be suffering from a mental health issue.

“Teachers have a lot going on. I wouldn’t purely put the responsibility with the teachers,” said Ms Milkins.

“They’re not mental health professionals, they’re teachers.”

Mr Atkinson also says teachers can’t do it all, but it is somewhat their responsibility to identify a mental health issue.

“They are with the students most hours of the day for five days a week,” said Mr Atkinson.

“If someone is feeling down it reflects on their grades and the effort that they put into specific pieces of work.

“There can be pressure that is coming from higher powers which can lead to them not being in the correct mindset.”

He said there does need to be some adjustment to mental health in schools.

“It’s not just the schools, it’s a group effort. The kids need to be more accepting about mental health issues,” said Mr Atkinson.

“Especially guys, they aren’t used to talking about their emotions, how they are feeling and what’s happening in their personal life. They feel like they are being judged.

“There’s a feeling that if you talk out about your issues at school, kids will turn on you due to them thinking it’s not the norm.”

Ms Carroll is worried that some schools may not make mental health a key topic.

“I’m worried in the immediate future, but certainly there are so many strong advocates in mental health that it will only be a matter of time before there is a massive change in the education industry,” said Ms Carroll.

“There is a lot of negative stigma being removed by well-known Australians and people from overseas that have high profiles.”

If you or someone you know is currently struggling with a mental illness, call Lifeline on 13 11 14 or chat to someone online at