Mindfulness a Priority for Federal Government in Improving Mental Health of Youth

Mindfulness a Priority for Federal Government in Improving Mental Health of Youth

By: Amy Cheng

Regional and rural primary schools are being given extra resources by the Australian Government to support mental health.

The Federal Government is supporting the rollout of the Smiling Mind app, which features meditation and mindfulness exercises, into 600 regional and rural Australian primary schools this year.

Applications for the program began on Wednesday and is open to schools from all sectors, including government, independent and Catholic.

The government pledged $2.5 million towards the program in its 2019-20 budget, as part of its youth mental health and suicide prevention plan.

“Smiling Minds will ensure more children can access mental health supports, which will help keep their education on track.” – Minister for Health Greg Hunt

The app has already been delivered in around 450 primary schools across NSW, thanks to an investment of $2.4m from the NSW Department of Education and the Buildcorp Foundation.

The initiative, separate to the current Federal Government rollout, helped fund mindfulness training in NSW schools between August 2019 and December 2020.

A spokesperson for the NSW Department of Education confirmed that schools in metro, rural and regional areas of NSW were included.

“Smiling Mind has confirmed that NSW public schools in rural and remote areas will be eligible to take part in the Commonwealth-funded program,” they said.

Rural and regional schools in South Australia and Queensland joined the Federal Government program in November last year.

What is Smiling Mind?

smiling mind app
Source: smilingmind.com.au

Smiling Mind is a not-for-profit web and app-based meditation program that has been developed by psychologists and educators.

The free app has daily mindfulness exercises with dedicated programs for adults, youth, classrooms and workplaces, and is available in a number of languages.

The free app has daily mindfulness exercises with dedicated programs for adults, youth, classrooms and workplaces, and is available in a number of languages.

The rollout of the program into regional and rural Australian primary schools will be a whole-school approach, providing training, resources and support.

Divided into three terms, it will begin by providing in-depth training for two teachers or “mindfulness champions” from each school, who will then introduce the program to the rest of the school’s staff.

In its third term, the program will be implemented across the school, where it will be used in classrooms and with students.

Benefits of the app

According to Smiling Mind, its app will increase mental wellbeing among students, give them greater concentration and focus, and positively impact their relationships with others.

It will improve their academic performance, provide them with clear strategies for emotional regulation and make them more resilient.

Teachers will also benefit from the app with calmer classrooms and more engaged and focused students.

Why is the government investing in mental health?

The Australian Government has made mental health and suicide prevention a national priority, with an estimate of $5.9 billion spent in mental health in 2020‑21, according to a spokesperson for the Department of Health.

Investment in the Smiling Mind Regional and Rural Schools Program is part of the Government’s commitment to support the mental health and wellbeing of children and young people,” the spokesperson said.

The Government recognises the importance of prevention and early intervention and the role of schools in supporting the mental health and wellbeing of students.

 The expected outcome of the program is to improve mental health and wellbeing through personal and social skill development of students and teachers.

“[To] embed mindfulness practices into the curriculum of participating schools and improve teacher confidence in delivering social and emotional learning programs,” the spokesperson said.

Minister for Health Greg Hunt said that Australian school students and their families faced many challenges last year as the nation responded to the pandemic.

“Smiling Minds will ensure more children can access mental health supports, which will help keep their education on track,” he said in a statement.

How are private schools addressing mental health?

“As Christians, [mindfulness] reminds us to draw our attention to God and know that He is in control of whatever has happened or will happen or what is presently going on around us.” – Tyndale Christian School counsellor Suzanne Hughes

Tyndale Christian School ensures the mental wellbeing of its students by providing counselling five days a week.

Last year, it also launched a counsellor page on its MyTyndale site for students, staff and carers.

School counsellor Suzanne Hughes said it has been a positive step in looking after the mental health of students.

“Often kids don’t always come to us straight away, they might try and access information online, so it’s just giving them other avenues for finding support and help,” she said.

The school also runs workshops for equipping staff on dealing with mental health.

“The teachers are the ones that are noticing the changes in behaviours, first of all, and they’ve got the relationship with them as well,” Ms Hughes said.

She believes that mindfulness is helpful in improving mental wellbeing and is particularly beneficial for Christians.

“Mindfulness is a relaxation tool that allows us to draw our attention to the present and not get caught up in the past or the future,” Ms Hughes said.

“As Christians this tool also reminds us to draw our attention to God and know that He is in control of whatever has happened or will happen or what is presently going on around us.”

Article supplied with thanks to Hope Media.

Feature image: Photo by Compare Fibre on Unsplash