South Canterbury schools seeing society's pressures bear down on youngsters

South Canterbury Principals Association president Jane Culhane said school staff were increasingly aware of the ...
MYTCHALL BRANSGROVE/STUFF

South Canterbury Principals Association president Jane Culhane said school staff were increasingly aware of the importance of safeguarding children's mental health.

Teachers are increasingly seeing young people who are weighed down by the pressures on society, a South Canterbury principal says.

South Canterbury Principals Association president Jane Culhane said that for some time teachers and principals had been aware of the need to support youngsters to develop and maintain good mental health.

Her comments come as New Zealand marks Mental Health Awareness Week.

Rangitata MP Andrew Falloon said in this year's budget the government had committed an extra $224 million over four ...
MYTCHALL BRANSGROVE/FAIRFAX NZ

Rangitata MP Andrew Falloon said in this year's budget the government had committed an extra $224 million over four years for mental health and addiction services.

"Many schools have undertaken lots of different initiatives to support the development of positive mental health, schools are very aware of that need to support children around positive mental health," Culhane said.

"I think what's becoming obvious is that, we are seeing the pressures on society and therefore children ... around getting ahead, around surviving, peer pressure.

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Labour Party List MP Jo Luxton said the party's policy was for students to have access to a mental health professional ...
JOHN BISSET/FAIRFAX NZ

Labour Party List MP Jo Luxton said the party's policy was for students to have access to a mental health professional who was on-site at all secondary schools.

"We are seeing increasing anxiety in children, where they are worrying more about things, where they are not sure what a big problem is and what a little problem is, where they are not feeling completely sure about what's going to happen.

"We need to ensure we are providing lots of strategies and tools to assist them when they aren't feeling that great."

Culhane said that included using mindfulness tools and the Five Ways to Wellbeing toolkit provided by the Mental Health Foundation.

The five steps in the toolkit encouraged children to connect, give, take notice, keep learning and be active.

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Other techniques used in schools were talking about and building resilience in children and talking to them about "when things go wrong", Culhane said.

"Who are the adults you know you can talk to if problems get too big, what's a big problem and a little problem."

Culhane said the Ministry of Education was "very proactive" in connecting schools with online resources around children's mental health.

"There are some very good apps out there for schools, they are very proactive in saying 'hey, have a look at this, this might be useful'."

Ultimately Culhane wanted to ensure that "children should be allowed to be children, and not have the worries of adults".

With health and mental health key battlegrounds in the recent general election, newly elected Rangitata MP Andrew Falloon welcomed new funding to look at "innovative new approaches aimed at suicide prevention".

"In Budget 2017 we confirmed an extra $224 million over four years for mental health and addiction services, and we've outlined a $100 million social investment mental health package targeting innovative ways to tackle mental health issues."

Falloon there was "always more to do to help young people get the support they need".

"New Zealand does have an issue with youth suicide, and it's a problem that's unfortunately getting worse around the world."

Rangitata-based Labour Party list MP Jo Luxton said a party policy was for school based health services to be extended to every public secondary school, to provide a "comprehensive youth health service".

"We know that when students have access to a health professional, who is on-site as part of a collaborative team, they have better mental health outcomes and depression and suicide risk are reduced by up to two thirds."

Luxton said that too many young people were "troubled by mental health and are at risk of committing suicide".

"Teachers and principals are so busy educating our young people and they aren't qualified to deal with mental health, so I don't think it is fair to expect them to do more."

In July mental health advocate and comedian Mike King visited a number of the region's schools to encourage youngsters to talk about youth mental health and suicide prevention.

King said that children did not get enough affirmation from the "significant adults" and parents in their lives, that resulted in them not sharing problems as they were scared what adults would think.

"Young people don't ask for help because they think they will be labelled as mentally ill," King said at the time.

 - Stuff

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