The Association of Independent Schools of NSW (AISNSW) will assist up to 50 schools in mental health risk areas to engage more counsellors to improve student wellbeing.
AISNSW Chief Executive Dr Geoff Newcombe AM announced the $6 million, two-year initiative with Federal Education Minister Dan Tehan.
“In my 40 plus years in education, I have not seen the level of mental health and wellbeing issues facing students as high as it is now,” Dr Newcombe said.
“The impact of bushfires and drought on young people in the latter stages of 2019 was significantly heightened when COVID-19 struck.
“This brought considerable anxiety and uncertainty to school communities and increased pressure on schools’ counselling services as they strived to support students experiencing mental health issues.
“To assist schools to address this increased demand for specialised support, AISNSW has allocated $4 million from the Commonwealth Government’s Choice and Affordability Fund and $2 million from the Australian Independent Schools Fund – a foundation established by AISNSW – to try to address mental health issues in children and young people.”
Dr Newcombe said the funds will be made available as short term grants to targeted schools to enable them to engage counsellors or expand their existing counselling support for students in need.
“More young Australians were reporting psychological distress, even before COVID-19,” he said.
“One study showed that 24.2 per cent of young people aged 15 to 19 years reported experiencing psychological distress in 2018 – up from 18.7% in 2012.
“And another survey of 12 to 18 year-olds in June and July found that 75 per cent of young people reported a ‘worsening of their mental health since the COVID-19 pandemic began’, with negative impacts reported on learning, friendships and family relationships.
“Some experts have warned of an increase in attempts at self-harm. We are aware of tragic consequences in some schools this year.”
Dr Newcombe said there was a lack of counselling services available to students in some regional areas.
“AISNSW will direct the first round of this funding to regional schools in five major geographic areas identified as high risk for mental health issues.”
AISNSW represents a diverse sector of more than 500 faith and non-faith independent schools, educating almost 209,000 students across metropolitan and regional areas of NSW.