More support needed to address student mental health crisis

New survey data from the Australian Education Union Victorian branch has revealed significant mental health issues in schools, preschools, and TAFEs.

The AEU surveyed members to inform its submission to the Mental Health Royal Commission. The overwhelming response from more than 3,500 members in just 10 days has shown the growing impact of mental health issues for students and staff. The results indicate significant mental health issues and a fundamental lack of support and resources to meet the needs of students.

“Of major concern is that this burden is particularly felt in socio-economically disadvantaged communities and in regional and remote Victoria. The mental health system is hard to navigate for students and their families. Too many students simply do not have access to the health services they need, when they need them,” says Meredith Peace, president of AEU Victoria.

“More than 70% of school principals across the state said that students did not have timely access to the services and support that they need. Wait times for access to services must to be addressed.

“It is clear that mental health issues are having a significant impact on student learning achievement, with massive difficulties accessing support services and accessing timely services, for too many students. Almost 80% of staff surveyed say mental health issues are impacting student learning.

“Mental health issues can significantly affect a student’s short-term and long-term success. This data shows students who face disadvantage are most likely to need mental health support, and least likely to receive it. In addition, schools and preschools in small regional towns and remote areas have the greatest difficulty accessing appropriate mental health services.

“The more disadvantaged a student or school is, the less likely it is for them to be able to access appropriate and timely care. Real steps must be taken to address this ongoing cycle of disadvantage and to support the wellbeing of students.

“It’s encouraging to see that the Andrews Government is taking steps to help reduce the high levels of mental ill-health in schools by investing $51.2million into a new Mental Health in Schools program. This is in addition to the GP in Schools program. But this investment is only at the tip of the iceberg of what is really needed across all education settings to ensure all students are appropriately supported.

“It is expected the Victorian’s government’s current review into regional and rural education will also expose some of these issues and we look forward to seeing any arising recommendations and the government’s response.

“The AEU submission to the Royal Commission, calls for a full review of the current provision of student access to mental health services. We would also like to see a minimum service standard for students to be agreed and formalised in a Mental Health Service Access Guarantee, to ensure no students fall through the gaps.

“Minimum standards would mean health providers, government and schools, early childhood settings and TAFE are compelled to work together to make sure that students can access the
support they need, when they need it,” said Ms Peace.

MEDIA CONTACT: Aliya Ahmad 0428 684 307