The most recent survey into principal health and well-being shows that increasing reports of stress due to the mental health issues of students and staff are taking a heavy toll on principals.
Recognising this, Principals Australia Institute (PAI) is holding a 2-day training workshop starting on 7 March which will then be rolled out across the country. The workshops will be aimed at improving mental health and first aid strategies for schools.
The evidence-based training course is authored by Mental Health First Aid (MHFA) Australia and delivered by PAI's accredited MHFA instructors.
Paul Geyer, PAI’s CEO, told The Educator that about 75% of mental health difficulties emerge before the age of 25 and 14% of 4-17 year olds experience mental health difficulties at some point.
“This means that over the course of their career, teachers and school leaders are very likely to be supporting young people experiencing mental health difficulties,” he said.
“This program has been well evaluated and found to be effective in improving mental health literacy, reducing stigma and increasing helping behaviours. Lifting the knowledge for teachers and school leaders will equip them to better support students and improve outcomes in this area.”
Geyer added that as part of the PAI’s Mental Health First Aid offering, it is also rolling out Teacher Well-being workshops around the country.
“Supporting teacher wellbeing enhances the capacity of schools to not only meet the needs of their students, but to positively impact on the whole school community,” Geyer explained.
“This will give teachers a shared understanding of what wellbeing really means and strategies to support them to take immediate action, as well as plan for the long term.”
‘Knowing how to respond is critical’
Geyer outlined some of the things principals should be aware of in terms of dealing with this sensitive issues in an effective way that delivers a positive outcome.
“We have seen the results from the recent Principal Health and Well-being Survey by Philip Riley, which affirms our views that the workload placed on school leaders has an enormous bearing on their mental health and stress levels,” he said.
“This is coupled with the attention and focus that they need to place on student and teacher mental health support.”
Geyer said that the training PAI is rolling out in its workshop is geared for both school leaders and teachers and will provide them with strategies to assist young people who might be developing a mental health problem, and support young people who are in a mental health crisis.
“Equipping teachers and school leaders with the necessary tools and strategies to provide effective support helps to alleviate the stress of working with people experiencing mental health problems,” he said.
“Knowing how to respond is critical.”
Geyer said that as Riley’s report highlighted, principals experience the pressure of managing both student and staff mental health issues.
“Principals Australia Institute are keenly aware of this and that’s why we offer complementary programs that provide support for teachers, through our Teacher Wellbeing program, as well as students, through KidsMatter and MindMatters,” he said.