With increasing rates of mental illness in children, it is peculiar that schools around the world, including Australian schools, continue to place an increasing emphasis on curriculum delivery, teacher quality and academic standards, and national literacy/numeracy comparisons through standardised testing, with many of these same schools reporting a declining trend in national literacy and numeracy.
In many areas of Australia and indeed the world, access to child and adolescent mental health services is either scarce or non-existent. Only one in four Australian children/young adults suffering from a mental illness reported receiving professional help. However, a majority of this reported professional help was serviced by health and education professionals with limited training in mental health intervention and, in most cases, was provided by school-based services.
Our children and young adults spend a large proportion of their day at school with teachers and their peers. Therefore, it makes sense that often detection and intervention of mental illness falls upon school staff. However, a recent survey of 600 Australian teachers and principals conducted by Beyondblue highlighted that half claimed they did not have time to focus on mental health issues and a fifth believed it was not their responsibility to do so.
It is apparent that schools and education professionals play a significant role in the intervention of child and adolescent mental illness, and whether schools take the initiative to intervene or not, the impacts of an increasingly large proportion of students suffering mental illness affects how schools function. Unfortunately, most school systems continue to drive their policy development with an increasingly narrow focus on student academic performance, whilst ignoring student welfare. However, at some point in the near future, school systems must realise what Aristotle said over 2000 years ago still applies today:
Educating the mind without educating the heart is no education at all.