Poor attendance and engagement, greater absences from school and more likelihood of self-harm a some of the effects of mental disorders on Australia’s school students, according to a national survey led by The University of Western Australia.
The survey, conducted at the Telethon Kids Institute by Dr David Lawrence from UWA’s Graduate School of Education, analysed educational outcomes from Young Minds Matter: the Second Australian Child and Adolescent Survey of Mental Health and Wellbeing.
Dr Lawrence said the survey looked at the impact of mental health problems on attendance, engagement and performance at school.
“It is based on the Australian Child and Adolescent Survey of Mental Health and Wellbeing, for which we interviewed over 6,000 families from across the country to see how their kids were doing,” Dr Lawrence said.
The survey found mental disorders affected one in seven students in the previous 12 months and students with mental disorders scored lower on average than students without mental disorders in every test domain and year level.
Students with a mental disorder in Year 3 were, on average, seven to 11 months behind students with no mental disorder but by Year 9 they were an average 1.5 to 2.8 years behind.
Students in Years 1-6 with mental disorders missed an average 12 days per year compared with eight days per year for students without a mental disorder, Dr Lawrence said. In Years 7-12 students with mental disorders missed an average 24 days per year compared with 11 days per year for those without mental disorders.
“What we also found was that about one in 10 students reported having self-harmed at some point in their life with around one in 12 (8.4 per cent) saying they had self-harmed in the previous 12 months,” he said.
The students had the option of not answering the questions on self-harm, however, and about five per cent took that option, meaning that the number of young people who had self-harmed could be higher than indicated.
Dr Lawrence said the results of the survey highlighted the need for specific measures to better support the academic performance of students with mental disorders.
Given that many mental disorders including ADHD and anxiety started early in life and could persist for many years, early childhood interventions needed improvement to close initial gaps in academic performance, he said.
“There’s a need to improve the effectiveness of interventions to reduce the prevalence of mental disorders in children experiencing socio-economic disadvantage and to improve the effectiveness of programs to help students.
Ben Goodsell, senior researcher on the project, said the current systems in schools were not always able to meet the demand.
“Regular evaluation and continual improvement of mental health support programs should be implemented and school counsellors should be given more support to expand their services,” he said.