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Discussions with well-being experts

In 2020 Slee conducted  interviews with 8 experienced mental health and well-being counsellors to help identify the content of classroom lessons focussed on student wellbeing.  The interviwees were asked what they thought the essential message of any mental health program for students should involve.  Their responses  were analysed to identify essential themes.

 

These responses can be distilled down to  a number of  main messages:

 

  • Normalise mental health literacy. By being better equipped with these skills students will have better relationships, better academic outcomes, more openness to new experience. Educators should help students reframe what change and failure mean to help students thrive.

  • Catastrophising issues and setting up for perfection is unrealistic, leading to anxiety, failure and depression. Any mental health literacy program should provide tools and techniques to help students understand the brain body connection and that mental health can be improved by helping them to have optimism, rather than fatalism and pessimism.

  • Understanding that there are no negative/positive emotions only how we interpret them. Expressing feelings and emotions is ok when things are not going well but we need to calm down the reaction urge. The judgement of an emotion is the issue, any emotion is good, it is just how we interpret it. Feelings are genuine and students have a right to feel them, but a mental health literacy program should help them learn how to take control of these feelings and bring them down. It is normal to have ups and downs and to respond to events and there is no

  • Positive/negative - any emotion is worth recognising. Help students understand it’s not their ‘fault’, but there are some things that can facilitate ‘moving on’.

  • These are all skills everyone is working on. Awareness that everyone might have a mask and not be showing everything and that we learn resilience/skills to feel better as we grow. The program should help students learn to be flexible and adaptable as these are qualities that employers are looking for, as well as how to manage their thinking, avoid unhelpful thinking and develop preventative skills. It was also noted teachers shouldn’t feel like they have to know everything – let the student help you understand about whatever condition they have. Teachers can’t help others unless they are ok themselves.

  • It’s about working together and making connections. Build relationships as foundational – build other things on top - don’t rush straight in to mental health. Students need to know that people care about them and can help them to find pathways for help. Students should be encouraged to find an adult they trust and an appropriate time/place/way to seek assistance. Students should understand how to build relationships, make friends through practice and role play. Teachers should remember to come from a place of respecting the inherent inviolable goodness of the child and operate from the code of conduct ‘do no harm’. The program should educate teachers how to recognise when there is an issue and helping parents to find pathways to help.

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