MindMatters: protecting the mental health of young Australians
MindMatters is a program that supports Australian secondary schools in promoting and protecting the mental health of young people. It aims to enhance the development of school environments, so that students can feel safe, valued, engaged and purposeful.
The MindMatters program takes a whole-school approach to social and emotional wellbeing, addressing issues of diversity and developing guidelines for preventing suicide and self-harm. It provides professional development materials and classroom resources that cover techniques for enhancing students' resilience, dealing with bullying and harassment, and understanding mental illness, loss and grief.
Moves towards developing a resource such as MindMatters began in the mid to late 1990s. The audit of Mental Health Education in Australian Secondary Schools (1996) recommended schools as appropriate settings for the promotion of mental health among young people, in recognition of the links between young people's social and emotional wellbeing, their social development, and their capacity to contribute to the workforce and the community. The recommendation also recognised the role of mental health promotion in reducing the rate of youth suicide.
Subsequent Commonwealth funding established a National Mental Health in Schools Project, managed by a consortium from Melbourne, Sydney and Deakin Universities, and the Australian Council of Health, Physical Education and Recreation (ACHPER).
A national pilot program followed, involving 24 Government, Catholic and Independent schools, from 1997 to 1998. The success of the program prompted the creation of MindMatters. The Mindmatters program is being implemented by the Australian Principals Associations Professional Development Council (APAPDC) and (Curriculum Corporation, and is funded by the Commonwealth Department of Health and Ageing (Mental Health and Wellbeing branch).
Curriculum Corporation was responsible for distribution of the MindMatters resource kit. The Corporation consulted extensively with secondary school principals to ensure that the product suited the requirements of systems and sectors in each State and Territory. By mid 2002, Curriculum Corporation had distributed a copy of the kit to every secondary school in Australia.
With the subsequent appointment of MindMatters State Based Officers, a professional development training program was rolled out. More than 1800 secondary schools and over 30,000 people have participated in the program. Participants have included teachers, health and mental health professionals, parents and students.
A variety of active, engaging approaches to teaching and learning used in the MindMatters kit are modelled in professional development sessions. The nature of MindMatters professional development is interactive yet supportive, with audience participation the focus of the learning. There are several levels of professional development available to secondary schools and their communities:
Many aspects of the program's activity are brought together on the MindMatters national website, which currently receives more than 3,000 hits per month. The website has dedicated State and Territory web pages, including Professional Development pages with details of MindMatters training sessions, and information from schools about their plans to implement the resource. A calendar provides details of free MindMatters professional development activities, and also contains a section listing other events related to the health and wellbeing of students and their communities. A national database links MindMatters activities, which are mapped against all key learning areas, to curriculum outcomes in each State and Territory
There is also a section providing published reports of MindMatters activities from a range of individual schools, covering all States and Territories, and all sectors of the national education system. A section on classroom ideas contains suggestions as to how teachers can use some of the concepts in MindMatters and apply them to all subject areas. The ideas are intended to encourage student participation, develop connectedness and an understanding of resilience, and promote help-seeking behaviours. There is also a lively discussion group where questions and responses, about issues and implementation, are posted and responded to by national and international subscribers.
The project has expanded its capacity to provide support to school communities over the last four years and has recently received further funding until the end of 2005. Several new goals and initiatives have been announced, and planning and development are currently underway.
More schools will be encouraged to make use of MindMatters workshops. At the same time, the successful program of two day training sessions will be extended, particularly in the larger States, and new regions as they come on board. Further support will be given to schools supporting students with high needs, and the project will be increasing its coverage of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander issues, both independently and in cooperation with APAPDC's Dare to Lead initiative.
There will also be more information explaining the links between MindMatters and other major national projects, such as the National Safe Schools Framework. These and other developments will be covered in a future edition of Curriculum Leadership.
For further information contact Robyn Timmins, Senior Project Manager, Curriculum Corporation.
School and community