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Understanding mental health and wellbeing in a school setting

Mental health exists on a continuum. It is influenced by many environmental, emotional, biological and social factors and can change regularly.

Under FISO 2.0External Link , wellbeing is defined as the development of the capabilities necessary to thrive, contribute and respond positively to the challenges and opportunities of life.

Wellbeing can be supported by:

A strong sense of wellbeing helps protect students against feelings of hopelessness and depression. It can help students:

  • develop confidence and resilience
  • feel a sense of belonging
  • develop a positive sense of self
  • develop voice and agency
  • meet their potential
  • increase learning, creativity and productivity
  • improve physical health and life expectancy.

Being mentally healthy is more than the absence of mental illness. It can also include cognitive, emotional, social and physical health as well as connectedness to culture and beliefs.

Wellbeing and mental health are complex. Even if someone is not experiencing a mental health condition, that does not mean their mental health is flourishing. It is also possible to be diagnosed with a mental health condition and still feel well and function effectively in many aspects of life.

It can be helpful to view mental health and mental ill-health as existing on a continuum.

The mental health continuum

Mental health exists on a continuum. It is influenced by many environmental, emotional, biological and social factors and can change regularly.

We all move along the continuum as we face challenges and situations that test our capacity to cope.

Continuum line with 'Flourishing' one end, then moving through 'Going ok', 'Going through a tough time', and at the other end 'Severely impacting everyday activities'.

Most students will sit between flourishing and going okay on the continuum of positive mental health. This means they can face adversity and have the resilience to cope with daily stressors.

The continuum provides one way of understanding mental health. It can be hard to detect changes in some students and the way students move along the continuum varies greatly from student to student.

Flourishing

If our mental health and wellbeing are flourishing, we are:

  • in a state of optimal functioning
  • engaged with our environment
  • connected to our community.

In a school setting, this is likely to be a student who:

  • maintains regular attendance
  • is always or almost always engaged in learning
  • has good coping strategies
  • is socially connected
  • can problem-solve
  • can maintain their energy and participation throughout the day.

Going okay

When our mental health and wellbeing are going okay, we are:

  • able to complete our daily activities such as work and study
  • experiencing positive mental health without frequent or significant distress.

In a school setting, this is likely to be a student who:

  • maintains regular attendance
  • is usually engaged with learning
  • is socially connected
  • experiences small observable changes in behaviour/emotions and/or social connection.

Going through a tough time

At this point in the continuum of emerging mental health concerns, we are likely to be:

  • experiencing difficulties maintaining daily activities
  • experiencing noticeable changes their behaviour, emotions and/or social connectedness.

In a school setting, this is likely to be a student who:

  • may be arriving late to school or having attendance concerns
  • experiences mild disruptions to their ability to engage in learning, behaviour, and/or social connections
  • experiences periods of disruption and impact on their behaviour, emotions and/or social connections.

Severely impacting everyday activities

At the far end of the continuum where our mental health and wellbeing are severely impacting everyday activities, we are likely to be:

  • experiencing distressing thoughts and emotions
  • displaying a change in behaviour
  • experiencing continued negative emotions
  • requiring extra support to reduce distress.

In a school setting, this is likely to be a student who:

  • is unable to maintain regular attendance or school refusing
  • is socially disengaged
  • displays a significant change in behaviour
  • is not engaged in learning
  • has identifiable emotional distress.

For more information about a student whose mental health may be impacting their engagement with everyday activities, refer to:

The information about the Mental Health Continuum has been adapted from the Be You Mental Health ContinuumExternal Link .

If we support students with emerging mental health concerns, we can improve their social and academic outcomes and their engagement in daily life.

Reviewed 11 September 2022

Education

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