Turns Out Mental Health IS a World-Wide Issue

Rowling, L. (2009). Strengthening “school” in school mental health promotion. Health Education, 109(4), 357–368.

Apparently Australia has been nationally focusing on improving mental health via schools since the early 2000’s. They have been implementing a program called MindMatters at their secondary level to improve mental health in a variety of ways. I was shocked – how have I never heard of this before??? It’s been going on for well over a decade, and Aussie Rules football is my favorite sport! You’d think I’d have stumbled across MindMatters at some point or another. Ah, well, chalk it up to not googling “school mental health in Australia,” I suppose.

Aussie Rules!!!

Aussie Rules!!!

In this article by Louise Rowling from the University of Sydney, she reviews nearly 10 years’ worth of research and writing collected since MindMatters began, and offers some suggestions on how to make even more progress. Her conclusion? They need to strengthen the “school” part of school mental health promotion.

As I mentioned before, I had never heard of MindMatters. I obviously did a quick little Google search when I began the article, but it was actually unnecessary. Rowling really does a great job of defining what MindMatters is and why it is important. She references that MindMatters is a federally funded program which incorporates a variety of strategies to promote mental health, including “mentoring, peer support programs, pastoral care practices and structures and with specifically designated teacher roles, as well as the provision of specialist educational personnel” (Rowling, p. 3, 2009) . Rowling also finds that these strategies are best implemented within the scope of a “whole school” approach. The whole-school approach means mental health is a holistic model promoted across grade levels and subject areas. It involves everyone, including administration, teachers, support staff, students, parents, and community members as active participants, and everyone is working cohesively to meet the same goal. It makes sense that this would be the best way to go!

But Rowling also describes key areas of concern, such as the tension between the educational and medical systems. Both want to achieve the same outcome, but not in the same way, and they use different data, language, and methods from one another. When these two entities come alongside each other to promote mental health in the same setting (schools), it sometimes gets wonky. It can result in parallel systems in which both agencies are working separately toward the same goal. Obviously this isn’t efficient, but it also leads to people stepping on one another’s toes – which I presume leads to hurt feelings, frustrated workers, and an eventual decline in their own mental health – which then leads to a decline for students as well. Rowling suggests that the best way to improve the efficiency and effectiveness of MindMatters is to use structures that the school already has in place. Since the educational system is hosting the medical system, the medical system should generally conform to the way the educational system is set up. Kind of like when we went to Grandma’s growing up and had to follow her rules during dinner.

Only Grandma puts out a white tablecloth when gravy is involved…

Only Grandma puts out a white tablecloth when gravy is involved…

Rowling also makes other suggestions to improve MindMatters, based on the schools that have implemented it well. She talks about supporting “distributed” leadership, meaning supporting principals as well as leaders at other levels within the school. She also found that better professional development led to better implementation of the programs. She suggests that when teachers do not have the training and resources to effectively implement and utilize strategies, they end up feeling overwhelmed and frustrated, which leads to low morale. (Hmmm… sound familiar at all?) Lister-Brown, et al, noted, “Staff who feel unsupported and under pressure are more likely to use dis-empowering methods of control such as shouting or humiliation in the classroom” (2010) . Which then goes back to ultimately decreased mental health for everyone!

The only real critique I had of this article was that it sometimes was difficult to read. The sentence structure and length, paired with fewer commas than I’m used to, meant I had to stop and read a few lines aloud (slowly… several times…) before I understood what Rowling was saying. But I imagine that is due to the tricky Australian-American language barrier, or possibly the fact that it’s been a few years since I’ve really read scholarly articles.

I loved reading this because it opened my eyes to the reality that the world is not just America. (Wait, it’s not???) I had wanted to eventually study what other countries were doing in the realm of school mental health, but imagined their models would be so different from the US model that it would be hard to draw parallels. Not so! It looks like Australia’s system is right alongside the few good school mental health systems in America (e.g. Maryland). Rowling also mentioned several other systems in this article, such as British Columbia, Great Britain and Germany, and I want to explore them, too. I am excited to know that school mental health is important to others and that there is a solid body of research out there. The idea of trying to implement some of these systemic changes in Arizona is really overwhelming, but MindMatters reinforced to me how incredibly important it is. Mental health and its corresponding illness impacts all of us, whether directly, in loved ones, or in the affects it has on society. By improving the microcosm of schools we can improve students’ (and staffs’) well-being, which can ultimately lead to an improved society. Overwhelming aside – how can we not pursue that?

Best, R., Lang, P., Lodge, C. and Watkins, C. (Eds) (1995), Pastoral Care and PSE: Entitlement and Provision, Cassell, London.
Rowling, L. (2009). Strengthening “school” in school mental health promotion. Health Education, 109(4), 357–368.

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Lead School Psychologist at Peoria Unified School District

Janine Fischer is the lead school psychologist for the Peoria Unified School District. She is currently pursuing her Educational Doctorate degree in Educational Leadership and Innovation through Arizona State University. Her passions in life are kids, mental health, and changing the world by making kids’ lives better.

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