La Trobe University has launched a new online program for teachers in response to a rising demand for mental health support in the classroom

La Trobe Education lecturer and child trauma expert Dr Anne Southall developed the six-week program, Mental Health and Wellbeing in Schools, following calls from concerned regional Victorian principals and teachers, who were witnessing the impact of mental health issues on their students.

“In the past teachers’ main role in the classroom was to teach the curriculum,” Dr Southall said.

“We now acknowledge the huge impact that a teacher can have in a student’s life, and the often critical role they play in supporting students to get back on track mentally and emotionally.”

Dr Southall said topics covered in the program include student anxiety and depression, recognising and supporting students’ mental health, the impact of trauma on brain development, and developing resilience in students.

“We had principals and teachers in both Bendigo and Mildura telling us that they needed more knowledge and training in this area in order to respond effectively to the problems they were facing,” Dr Southall said.

“As a university that is so closely connected to its local communities, and that aims to ensure a healthy, safe and equitable life course for everyone, we are proud to offer this program to schools across Australia.”

Marist College Bendigo Principal, Mr Darren McGregor, said the strong need for such a program before the pandemic has been exacerbated this year.

“Prior to this year we knew that many young people were experiencing mental health issues, that affected many aspects of their lives. Now in school communities, we’re witnessing that at levels we’ve never seen before,” Mr McGregor said.

“Given classroom teachers have regular and close contact with students, and deeply care about their wellbeing, it makes sense to equip them with the skills they need to safely and effectively support them.

“Ideally all teachers would be supported to prioritise student mental health and wellbeing – and not just have that role delegated to one or two people in the school community,” Mr McGregor said.

Primary and secondary educators from across Australia can enrol in the online program, which starts in February 2021.

To register for the course, see La Trobe University’s website.