A child in school

A successful research project designed to prevent and address student mental health problems will start a new chapter in South Australia this year.

The Mental Health in Primary Schools (MHiPS) project will be adapted and run in up to 20 primary schools across South Australia over the next two years.

MHiPS, an initiative developed by Murdoch Children’s Research Institute (MCRI) in collaboration with the University of Melbourne and co-designed with the Victorian Department of Education, was launched in Victoria in 2020 with the support of the Victorian Government and other funders.

MHiPS will be adapted for the South Australian context in partnership with the South Australian Department for Education and the South Australian Primary Principals Association. Ten schools will be selected this year, followed by up to another 10 in 2025.

The project embeds a child mental health and well-being coordinator within schools to help identify and manage emerging issues among students and provide connections between education, social and health services. In South Australia, they will use existing student wellbeing leaders in primary schools.

One in four children has a mental health disorder at some point during their childhood, with puberty a key developmental stage when mental health issues emerge.

MCRI Professor Frank Oberklaid welcomed South Australia’s involvement in the project as there was a growing need for more support for primary school students across the country.

Mental health expert Professor Frank Oberklaid

Image: Professor Frank Oberklaid

“Schools are an ideal platform for promoting children’s mental health,” he said. Yet, without resourcing and dedicated training and support, it can be challenging for teachers to navigate increasing issues in the classroom.

“The extra support will help teachers better support at-risk students and build referral pathways to local services.”

MHiPS in Victoria resulted in a successful pilot with 100 schools, where more than 95 per cent of the mental health and well-being coordinators reported that the model improved their school’s capacity to support students’ needs.

Due to the positive results, the Victorian Government committed $200 million in June 2022 to see MHiPS rolled out to every government and low-fee non-government primary school in Victoria by 2026.

Professor Oberklaid said feedback had been overwhelmingly positive and had improved care pathways for students who may otherwise have slipped through the cracks. 

The Royal Commission into Victoria’s Mental Health System highlighted that schools play an important role in identifying children with mental health and wellbeing challenges who can then be referred to treatment, care and support if needed.

South Australian Education Minister Blair Boyer said; “Early identification of emerging mental health issues is essential, as is early intervention. This helps improve overall wellbeing and prevent long-term issues.”

child in hospital

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