Schools improve education outcomes through mental health literacy

Claire Halliday
Claire Halliday


Child health experts agree that mental health and wellbeing issues are on the rise across the globe – and our kids are experiencing this rise in record numbers too.

According to Australia’s top child health research institute, mental health issues in young children are increasing, with 63 per cent of children aged 5-14 years experiencing a worsening of their mental health since returning to the post-COVID19 school environment.

Home schooling and lockdowns during the pandemic made everything a lot more challenging for some children, as social isolation became a catalyst for loneliness. While social isolation and loneliness don’t always go hand-in-hand, high levels of loneliness do impact mental health. 

And for students still coming to terms with their post-pandemic world, how does this impact their education?

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Further research conducted by the Murdoch Children’s Research Institute in 2022, shows mental health problems have a direct impact on learning. Kids struggling with mental health problems are 4-6 months behind their peers, and are up to three times as likely to miss school – risking detention and suspension. Teachers are also being confronted with increased rates of anxiety, eating disorders and self-harm episodes.

Alex Burke, Chief Executive of leading trans-Tasman Ed Tech provider, Education Perfect says, “The youth mental health crisis is a very worrying trend. In a survey we conducted with our Education Perfect teaching community, 85 per cent of teachers said they needed more support in the classroom. Teachers can be vital in spotting early warning signs … but they’re not confident addressing mental health issues. There is a clear need for credible specialist resources to help teachers support students.” 

The stigma around mental health, and lack of mental health education for teachers presents a barrier to our kids seeking help. While teachers are stretched, there is some acknowledgement that, as front-liners with unique relationships with our kids, they can play a critical role in the solution. Especially around reducing the stigma, and supporting good mental health for both immediate and long-term management of the issues.

School communities are an obvious setting for starting conversations around mental health, but we also know that teachers need much more knowledge and support to confidently tackle these sensitive and complex issues,” Mr Burke says.

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Mental health literacy for teachers needs to be prioritised. It’s important for educators to possess the understanding, and the appropriate language to discuss mental health with students, and encourage them to speak out, and reflect on their own mental health. Developing literacy in this area is no longer merely a good thing to do – it’s vital to assist kids in their own comprehension, which can potentially prevent future mental health issues, and escalation. 

Empowering teachers with the necessary resources, and strategies, can also help break the cycle of burnout. When they can better manage challenging behaviour and issues in the classroom, and support good student mental health, it enhances student learning, improves class morale and engagement, and contributes to a better environment for everyone. 

Communication and conversations are proven tools in breaking down barriers. If parents and teachers don’t talk, then kids aren’t going to come forward and ask for help. They’ll suffer in silence, and risk spiralling, which can have detrimental consequences for them, their family and their school community. 

The good news is, the education system has acknowledged the problems, and are now looking for solutions to address mental health, with emphasis on the whole-classroom or school approach. Focusing on the bigger picture lifts everyone’s knowledge and literacy. Good mental health in the classroom correlates with better academic outcomes. 

“By acting now, we can address the issue of students falling behind, and we can also positively impact their future wellbeing,” Mr Burke says. “Clearly there is an urgent identified need – which is why we’ve partnered up with Matterworks and Murdoch Children’s to develop a curriculum-based program that’s aimed at students, but which also provides teachers with all the resources they need to help students with their wellbeing.”  

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Reducing the stigma, and increasing knowledge and awareness is possible when tools and solutions resonate with teachers, and connect with kids in a relatable way.  

Kids are visual learners, and spend a significant amount of time interacting with visual content on the internet. This is a perfect way to increase their awareness and education in the mental health space. They can empathise and understand individuals who have personal experience with mental health struggles, which are relatable to their own.

Decode Mental Health & Wellbeing program is a one-of-a-kind research-backed, curriculum-based program developed by content and technology studio Matterworks, in partnership with ANZ’s leading EdTech provider Education Perfect and powered by decades of research from Murdoch Children’s Research Institute, a global leader in children’s health research. Decode showcases authentic real-life narratives that highlight mental health issues, using recognisable social media influencers, athletes and other faces that kids connect with, and is in primary and secondary schools, nationally.

For more info on Decode, learn more


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Claire Halliday has an extensive career as a full-time writer - across book publishing, copywriting, podcasting and feature journalism - for more than 25 years. She lives in Melbourne with children, two border collies and a grumpy Burmese cat. Contact: claire.halliday[at]