Australian children have been experiencing heightened levels of loneliness and isolation during COVID-19, with 40 per cent of young people reporting concern for their mental health during the pandemic.
To combat this and following the success of the event in 2019, Peer Support Australia’s annual Talk-and-Walk-a-Thon has returned, encouraging students to foster stronger relationships with their peers.
Greg Cantwell, CEO of Peer Support Australia, said this event is now more important than ever as Australia begins its recovery.
“Our program has always been important but the mental health effects on school-aged children during COVID-19 have been even more prominent this year,” Mr Cantwell said.
“The 2020 Talk-and-Walk-a-Thon encourages students to talk to their peers and build relationships, which after a year of social distancing and disruption is much needed in Australian schools.”
The event combines a traditional walk-a-thon with aspects of relationship building and mental wellbeing. During the walk, students are encouraged to talk to their peers, develop new friendships and strengthen their relationships within their school community.
According to Black Dog Institute Australia, young people turn to friends and parents for support first and then the internet. The purpose of the Talk-and-Walk-a-Thon is to encourage communication and exercise, which are vital building blocks towards good mental health.
“This year has been an unsettling time for students and teachers alike,” Mr Cantwell said.
“Some children and young people are still experiencing disruption to their routine and usual school rituals such as graduations and other celebrations. Providing COVID-safe experiences for students to reconnect with their school community is critical for the mental health and wellbeing of our young people.”
With a handful of schools across the country still experiencing disruptions, which are planned to last throughout the remainder of 2020, this year’s Talk-and-Walk-a-Thon is designed to be flexible and able to adapt to whatever format schools are currently operating.
“The great thing about the Talk-and-Walk-a-Thon is how it caters to the different needs of students and schools regardless of whether they are at school or a mixture of school based and remote learning” Mr Cantwell said.
“We are especially encouraging schools that are recommencing in-person teaching to use the Talk-and-Walk-a-Thon as an opportunity for students to reconnect, while remote learning students can use the talking points included in our toolkit to start online conversations.”
The 2020 Talk-and-Walk-a-Thon event coincides with National Mental Health Month which occurs this October. Peer Support Australia is encouraging schools around the nation to participate on a day of their choice throughout the month as a way to promote mental health and wellbeing.
The format of the event is designed to be flexible, with the walk’s distance, location and participating year levels able to be adapted to suit each school’s needs.
Participation is free and schools can register to participate by heading to www.peersupport.edu.au. Registered schools will receive a Talk-and-Walk-a-Thon toolkit.