Schools desperately need more mental health councillors and support services, a summit has heard.
Student leaders from nine Northern Beaches schools organised and hosted the ‘Have Your Say Day’ forum on Friday, where students voiced their concerns to local, state, and federal MPs.
Mental health was the main issue raised by students, while climate change and teacher shortages were also high on the agenda.
Student leaders told of their own experiences with mental health in schools and claimed a lack of available support services was a significant barrier for students getting help.
“Mental health is a key component of overall health and wellbeing, however, there is simply just not enough support regarding these challenges,” said one of the school representatives.
Support services should be accessible to everyone at all times so that we can get help before this happens.
“As a school we have recently encountered some serious issues surrounding mental health… what is outstanding to us is the fact that it took this incident for us to get a sufficient amount of counsellors and support at the school.
“Support services should be accessible to everyone at all times so that we can get help before this happens.”
One school’s survey revealed 98.1 per cent of its student base wanted more support services on the Northern Beaches, including greater access to school councillors, other mental health workers, and more external services coming to schools.
The students then offered solutions for the youth mental health issue such as additional funding for external programs or discrete and free pop-up clinics in popular locations.
Shortening school days was another initiative suggested, which had already been implemented at one school. Students said it alleviated the stress of packed days as they had more time for extracurriculars and to build up self-directed learning habits.
Northern Beaches mayor Michael Regan, NSW state members Rob Stokes and James Griffin, and federal member for Mackellar Dr Sophie Scamps were in attendance, listening to student presentations, and asking and answering questions.
Dr Scamps said she understood the seriousness of mental health issues in the community.
“I’ve been a GP and so I’m aware of the prevalence of the issue in the community and also how hard it is to get people the care that they need in a timely manner,” she added.
“When we had the kitchen table conversations, and we sat down with people in Mackellar asking what are the issues that are important to them, mental health and youth mental health came up constantly so [I’m] totally aware that there’s a huge issue.”
Climate change was another leading topic at the forum, with students highlighting growing eco-anxiety within their school communities and the need for action now.
Anxiety comes in when you know that there’s a massive challenge, yet our leaders are not dealing with it.
Jess, vice-captain at Mater Maria Catholic College, said: “There is no denying that our generation faces, and will continue to face, more exposure to world events than any other generation has before.
“The reality that young people feel threatened by the onslaught that is climate change, but unaware of how they can help until it’s too late, is one that we continue to face as the pressure of school, relationships, and family continue to exist.
“It is now a matter of grappling with… the knowledge that, as we are constantly reminded, ‘You’ll be the ones’ to deal with climate change.”
Students proposed school-based solutions to the issue such as second-hand fashion stalls, an app to share environmental plans with other schools, and a cross-school network to allow schools to implement initiatives from other schools and engage in a forum with the government.
However, it was agreed that while young people should be consulted on climate policies, it was the government’s duty to act on climate change and ease student fears.
“That anxiety comes in when you know that there’s a massive challenge, yet our leaders are not dealing with it,” said Dr Scamps.
“I think just seeing that our new government has said that the climate wars are over and there’s a lot of a different ways of hopefully approaching this challenge which is one of more collaboration and consensus and looking toward solutions rather than that adversarial tit for tat type way of approaching politics is really hopeful.”
Teacher shortages were also heavily discussed, with students feeling the impacts and empathising with their teachers.
One student shared how, for three successive English HSC lessons, there had been a student to teacher ratio of 60:1, while another said junior classes were being sent to the library when there was no teacher for them, creating a distracting environment in which seniors couldn’t effectively study.
All the MPs said the forum was a great initiative and supported future events being hosted.
“I think it’s a great idea,” said Mr Stokes.
Dr Scamps added: “It was so informative, and it was so empowering for the students to be heard I think… they don’t wanna just be heard once, they wanna be involved in that process and the dialogue and that ongoing communication is really important.”
Earlier in the day students engaged in a workshop led by Youth Action NSW about having a positive mindset towards making change, and later implemented that training in their speeches.