Greater support for students’ mental health

Wembley Primary School students Ellie and Lia have enjoyed the support of the school's new wellbeing dog Ginny. (Supplied)

By Matthew Sims

Mental health across government and low-fee non-government primary schools in Maribyrnong and Hobsons would soon receive further support, with the state government committing $200 million towards expanding the Mental Health in Primary Schools [MHiPS] program.

Yarraville’s Wembley Primary School was among the schools selected as participants in the pilot program in 2022, which was delivered in partnership with the Murdoch Children’s Research Institute and the University of Melbourne.

Principal Vassie Vatsilas-D’Arcangelo said the school was “honoured and privileged” to take part in the program.

“Being invited to participate in the MHiPS program, which is now at a state-wide level, has enabled us to collaborate with global leaders within the mental health and wellbeing landscape to support, strengthen and build upon mental wellness.”

Mental health and wellbeing co-ordinator Tom Penberthy led the school’s wellbeing team to build relationships with appropriate mental health and wellbeing support services, a well as provide a whole-school approach to mental health through evaluating current practices and implementing new programs.

“Staff are being supported to develop their literacy and knowledge around mental health,” he said.

“We have also seen a great improvement in the structures to support the students that are identified as being at-risk of mental health decline.”

Initiatives introduced via the pilot program at Wembley Primary School have included welcoming a wellbeing dog, implementing the Resilience, Rights, Respectful Relationships program and a ‘quiet club’ for students wishing to take part in mindfulness activities.

Wellbeing leading teacher Lindsey Delooze said a mental health and wellbeing co-ordinator has been a welcome addition to the staff, with mental health issues in primary school students continuing to worsen.

“The number of students that are experiencing challenges with their mental health has increased significantly over the last few years, as a result of the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, which has been noted nationally and at a global level,” she said.