Educator insights on children's mental health in primary schools

Wednesday, October 5, 2022 - 10:40 AM

In an open-access study published in The Australian Educational Researcher, primary school educators share their perspectives on the factors influencing children’s mental health in schools.

Schools are an ideal platform for promoting children’s mental health, identifying early signs of mental health concerns, and supporting referrals to community-based mental health services when necessary. This new paper provides insights on barriers and enablers to supporting children’s mental health in schools from the perspective of teachers and school leaders.

The study findings revealed that teachers are highly motivated to support their student’s mental health to promote wellbeing and enable effective learning. However, teachers also talked about the associated emotional impact this has on teachers and how school culture can either inhibit or support their capacity to help their students.

Whole-of-school approaches to wellbeing

Educators raised the necessity of a whole-of-school approach to mental health. A whole-of-school approach can enable students to experience consistency in the support they receive, facilitated by clear communication between staff, students, and families. Educators also reported that student wellbeing is enhanced by a school culture that prioritises the development of positive staff-student relationships. This is because when staff are aware of students’ wellbeing needs, they are better placed to identify students who are struggling and need targeted support.

“I spend a lot of time with the kids too, I know them well enough to know – it’s a quick ‘Hi, how you going?..or “I can see you need some space. I’ll let you sit, and we’ll talk in a little bit” (School Leader).

Supporting teachers to enhance children's mental health

In addition to ensuring the school environment enables teachers to help their students, teachers reported the importance of a school culture that understands the associated impacts of supporting students with mental health difficulties and prioritises staff wellbeing.

“If there’s a child that’s disclosed something, it doesn’t just stop there. (The educators) carry that” (School Leader).

Educators shared some of the helpful strategies schools have put in place to support staff, including the creation of relaxation areas for staff to use for downtime before returning to the classroom. Others raised the challenges they experienced working in a school with little wellbeing support, noting that this can compound the pressures of working to support students’ wellbeing.

Schools are increasingly being seen as an ideal setting to support children’s mental health needs. This study indicates the importance of a school culture that prioritises a whole-of-school approach to supporting the mental health of staff and students to help mitigate pressures and challenges.

Read the open access paper

Proudly in partnership with

MHiPS would like to acknowledge the Ian Potter Foundation, the Victorian Department of Education and Training, the Helen Macpherson Smith Trust, SALT Catalyst, Bupa, the RE Ross Trust and the R.M. Ansett Trust for their support in establishing the initiative.