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STRONGER TOGETHER: Beyond the Classroom - Navigating the Challenges of School Avoidance and Mental Wellbeing

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Last updated: 01/04/2024

"STRONGER TOGETHER" is a weekly column where Tanya explores key issues. This week Tanya discusses the pressing issues facing our young people, from the rising tide of mental health challenges to the troubling phenomenon of school avoidance.

By IMPACT Community Services Managing Director Tanya O'Shea

Tanya O'Shea, IMPACT Community Services Managing Director

The balancing act of ensuring our children's academic success while nurturing their mental wellbeing is a struggle many parents can relate to. If you've ever found yourself in this complex predicament, rest assured, you're not alone.

In our recent episode of the STRONGER TOGETHER podcast, I had the privilege of sitting down with Vicki Ross, a dedicated guidance officer serving in both primary and secondary schools across the Bundaberg region. Together, we delved into the pressing issues facing our young people, from the rising tide of mental health challenges to the troubling phenomenon of school avoidance. Our conversation highlighted the gravity of these issues, prompting an in-depth discussion on the collaborative efforts needed to support the wellbeing of our youth.

The statistics are sobering. With conditions like anxiety, depression, and ADHD on the rise, alongside an alarming increase in rates of ‘school refusal,’ it's abundantly clear that youth mental health is a matter of urgent national concern. Shockingly, about 1 in 7 children and adolescents in Australia have recently grappled with a mental health disorder, underscoring the pressing need for early identification and intervention.

Mrs. Ross stressed the importance of spotting early signs of mental health issues, highlighting that a staggering 75% of mental health illnesses manifest before the age of 25. This stark reality emphasises the pivotal role that early intervention plays in shaping the lifelong trajectory of our young ones.

Equally troubling are the rates of non-attendance and ‘school refusal’ in Queensland, with overall school attendance rates witnessing a concerning decline in recent years. This phenomenon, exacerbated by a myriad of societal challenges, underscores the imperative of addressing the root causes contributing to school avoidance.

It is a challenging situation. For some families, it's really hard to get their child on the bus or in the car to get them to school and they go, ‘I can't do that today. I just can't have that argument again today. I'll let it go today.’ And then it's the next day, and the next. And before you know it, it's quite an extended absence.

School avoidance is complex and requires a tailored approach that acknowledges the unique needs and circumstances of each individual child and their family. Mrs Ross advocates for a "soft launch" entry back into school, starting with small steps based on each student's needs and interests. This might involve setting weekly goals, identifying supportive individuals ("champion people") within the school community, and gradually increasing involvement in school activities.

Yet, despite our best efforts, an individualised approach may not always yield the desired results. In such cases, exploring alternative education opportunities, such as homeschooling or specialised schools, may be worth considering to prioritise both the child's and the family's wellbeing.

Ultimately, finding an educational setting that fosters growth while supporting mental health is paramount. It's a journey that requires patience, empathy, and unwavering support from all stakeholders involved – parents, educators, and the broader community. Our young people are indeed our future, and they are unequivocally worth every ounce of effort we invest in their wellbeing.

Listen to Episode 9 of IMPACT's STRONGER TOGETHER podcast series "Brighter Minds & Enhancing Mental Wellbeing in the Classroom" here.

Please note: This website may contain references to, or feature images, videos, and voices of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples who have passed away.

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