Wellbeing is a team effort at All Saints Catholic College Liverpool. School counsellors Breanna Sada and Andrew Psaila are registered psychologists at the core of a culture that gives wellbeing and positive mental health equal importance to academic achievement.
When the College amalgamated previously separate boys’ and girls’ schools this year to create a co-educational school of 1,000 students in Years 7 to 10, the pair began to work more closely together.
They take part in diverse learning meetings and link families and students to relevant external services and healthcare professionals including refuges, paediatricians, psychologists, and youth workers. They have also delivered classes on mental health to help teachers meet curriculum requirements in Personal Development, Health and Physical Education (PDHPE) and information sessions for teachers on positive psychology.
Pastoral lessons every two weeks focus on mental health, personal development, goal setting, cyber safety, forms of bullying and how to stop them. Every Friday in October – Mental Health Month – students had extended recess and music was played during lunch to reduce stigma around mental health problems and encourage people to seek help.
So much of our work now is in building resilience.
Breanna said in anticipation of the merge, she and Andrew ran programs together including group program DRUMBEAT to build emotional regulation, resilience and interpersonal skills for a mix of anxious students and future students leaders. Another, Study Without Stress, helps Year 10 students develop skills to cope with the pressure of the HSC before they head to All Saints’ Senior College Casula for their final two years of high school.
“The role of a school counsellor is usually quite solitary, whereas Andrew and I work together and with the wellbeing team,” Breanna said. “What would typically be your year group coordinators at another school are our leaders of wellbeing here. They share a holistic approach to education and wellbeing and understand that students can’t flourish if their mental, physical and emotional health isn’t being accounted for.
“For so long people have gone to talk to a psychologist or a counsellor when there’s a problem instead of building a capacity to overcome challenges to actually prevent mental ill health and maintain positive mental health. So much of our work now is in building resilience within kids.”
DRUMBEAT is one example of this. “It’s a very engaging program,” Andrew said. “You use drums in a circle to get students to express their individuality but also practice being able to work collaboratively. It’s a very hands-on, practical way to get students engaged in those deeper conversations about home and school situations, hopes, dreams, and values.”
There are so many mixed-messages about what is going to lead to a meaningful life. I think that tends to overwhelm young people.
All Saints’ has a diverse student population which, with no dominant cultural, group Andrew says builds tolerance. Some students from refugee and asylum seeker backgrounds have experienced significant trauma, others present with symptoms of the anxiety and depression that is becoming more common. Current figures suggest one in every four teenagers will develop a diagnosable mental illness by the time they are aged 18.
“There are so many mixed-messages these days about what is going to lead to a meaningful life and an overload of information that I think that tends to overwhelm young people,” Andrew said. “There’s a lot of information around diet, nutrition and exercise, but trying to educate young people around healthy technology use is becoming more paramount for them to feel confident and in control. Balance around technology use is important so kids get to bed on time and are rested, otherwise they’re struggling with their relationships and mood when they come to school.”
Breanna agreed. “Some adults struggle with the concept of virtual reality, but for this generation of children that’s where they do socialise and express their identity. It is also where they go for leisure and academically. So much of their school work is online that this virtual space is their reality and we have to help them navigate those situations safely and in a healthy way.”
Online resources they recommend include Headspace fact sheets on how to cope with mood disorders including depression and anxiety, Reachout’s mindful breathing and ‘worry time’ apps, government cyberbullying websites, Beyond Blue, stress lesstips.org, Kids Help Line and Parentline.
“It’s all helping to provide a school culture that embraces personal development,” Andrew said. “It has become a lot more normalised and comfortable for students to seek us out.”