Promoting mental health and wellbeing in your school

Mental health and wellbeing

Mental health is more than the absence of mental illness. Mental health is a state of wellbeing where people can meet their learning potential, cope with normal stresses, and are connected to community and their friends

Why mental health and wellbeing is promoted in schools

For most people, mental health issues emerge when they are young — half of all mental disorders emerge by the time people are 14 years old and three quarters by 25 years old – the same period when most people are in education.

As well as increasing a person's opportunity and choices in life, promoting mental health and wellbeing as a core role in education helps students:

  • flourish in their education journey
  • build resilience against adversity
  • develop protective factors from mental ill-health
  • provide them with skills and confidence to self-seek help for early intervention.  

Key features of promoting mental health and wellbeing in schools

Whole of school approaches

A whole school approach involves everyone (schools leaders, teachers, staff and parents) to embed a safe and inclusive learning culture and environments, including:

  • providing social and emotional skills programs
  • providing timely support for those with additional needs
  • involving students and families in decision-making.  

Resilience building for students

Resilience is the ability to cope and thrive in the face of negative events, challenges or adversity. It is a skill that can be developed through:

  • positive social connections
  • safe environments
  • life skills such as positive coping and problem solving skills
  • pro-social values
  • positive self-regard
  • and a sense of purpose and agency or responsibility.

 Building staff capacity to promote and protect mental health

When school staff, leaders, teachers and educators are given the resources and tools to promote and model behaviours, values and inclusivity, this improves teacher-student relationships and builds inclusive and safe school communities to support everyone's wellbeing and improved learning outcomes.

Curriculum and teaching 

The Victorian Curriculum supports the teaching of mental health, wellbeing and resilience of all students in schools through the learning areas of Health and Physical Education, and the Personal and Social Capability.

Health and Physical Education Learning Area

Focuses on students enhancing their own and others' health, safety, wellbeing and physical activity participation in varied and changing contexts. The curriculum focuses on supporting students to develop the understanding and skills they require to make healthy and safe choices that will enhance their own and others' health and wellbeing.

See health and physical education learning area resources

Personal and Social Capability

This involves students:

  • learning to recognise and regulate emotions
  • develop empathy for others and understand relationships
  • establish and build a framework for positive relationships
  • work effectively in teams and develop leadership skills,
  • handle challenging situations constructively.

See personal and social capability resources

Department resources

Respectful Relationships teaching and learning resources

Respectful Relationships supports schools and early childhood settings to promote and model respect, positive attitudes and behaviours. It teaches our children how to build healthy relationships, resilience and confidence.

As well as being a whole of school approach to promote and model respectful and positive relationships, it also supports educators to teach students how to build relationships, resilience and confidence.

See teaching resources

Respectful Relationships online professional learning program

The resilience, rights and respectful relationships professional learning program is available to teachers from government, Catholic and independent schools. Register for the Respectful Relationships online training

Students are further supported to build their social and emotional skills, including confidence, resilience, respect and help-seeking behaviour, and staff capability building via whole of school approaches and specific programs detailed below.

Whole of school approaches

There are many whole of school approaches that can be used to embed a culture of wellbeing, mental health and enhance resilience. When a culture of wellbeing is prioritised across the whole school community, positive social norms and behaviour are built between leaders, school staff, teachers and educators and students, and a sense of belonging and inclusivity is woven through everything the school already does.

Components of a whole of school approach

Schools enhance mental health and wellbeing and build resilience at three levels - organisational, pedagogical, and relational.

At an organisational level, schools:

  • foster a friendly, respectful and inclusive environment
  • implement a positive approach to behaviour management
  • establish proactive policies addressing wellbeing and inclusion
  • drive improvement in wellbeing outcomes through the Framework for School Improvement (FISO) and the  Health, Wellbeing and Inclusion Workforces Practice Model
  • provide opportunities for student participation and leadership
  • foster strong partnerships with students, parents, carers, community and service providers.

At a pedagogical level, schools:

  • explicitly teach social and emotional learning skills
  • provide a comprehensive wellbeing education program
  • explicitly develop personal and social capabilities

At a relational level, schools:

  • have high but achievable expectations for student learning and behaviour
  • promote positive and supportive teacher-student relationships and peer-peer relationships
  • use positive approaches to manage student behaviour, including fostering a range of strategies to prevent and respond to bullying
  • notice and intervene when students experience problems related to learning or wellbeing.

Examples of Whole School Approaches

Respectful Relationships

The Respectful Relationships whole-school approach recognises that schools are a workplace, a community hub and a place of learning. Everyone involved in our school community deserves to be respected, valued and treated equally.

Changes in attitudes and behaviours can be achieved when positive attitudes, behaviours and equality are lived across the school community, and when classroom learning is reinforced by what is modelled in our school community. A resource kit for Victorian Schools provides schools with strategies and tools to support implementation of a whole-school approach to Respectful Relationships.

School-Wide Positive Behaviours Support

School-Wide Positive Behaviour Support (SWPBS) is a framework to support schools to successfully implement evidence based practices and is adapted to individual school needs and contexts.

It brings together the whole school community including the principal and leadership group to improve social, emotional, behavioural and academic outcomes for children and young people. SWPBS employs a multi-tiered approach:

  1. primary prevention
  2. targeted support for students identified with additional needs
  3. specialised systems for students intensive needs. 

The framework supports schools to build their capacity to identify and successfully implement evidence-based whole-school practices to enhance learning outcomes for children and young people. This can include how to incorporate programs such as Respectful Relationships and approaches to the prevention of Bullying.
Implementation is supported by Area-based SWPBS coaches in each region and can be connected to regional SWPBS communities of practice.

School-wide positive behaviour support

Further Whole School resources

Be You

Offers educators and learning communities evidence-based online professional learning, complemented by a range of tools and resources to turn learning into action to promote mental health and wellbeing, from early years to 18.

Be You helps educators develop valuable mental health skills and knowledge, while providing a model for implementing a whole-learning community approach to mental health and wellbeing.

See the Be You resources

Achievement program

Achievement program is a framework for a whole school approach to health and wellbeing supported by the Victorian Government and delivered by Cancer Council Victoria.

Australian Student Wellbeing Framework

The Student Wellbeing Hub, underpinned by the Australian Student Wellbeing Framework, helps to create learning communities that promote student wellbeing and the development of respectful relationships.

[i] https://www.who.int/en/news-room/fact-sheets/detail/mental-health-strengthening-our-response