Health

Fighting childhood stress

LIZ CREASEY

A unique WA program may prove to be a key to combating the high levels of child stress discovered in a recently published report into children’s wellbeing.

Aussie Optimism aims to develop children’s confidence and mental health.

It’s been developed by researchers at Curtin University to instil resilience in young children and prevent issues such as stress and bullying from effecting a child’s life.

Researcher, Margaret Ho says the program has three parts and is designed for children in primary and middle school.

“What we know with children is that one of the main protective factors for children is social competence. If children can’t get along, if they can’t negotiate, communicate, then they aren’t actually able to protect themselves from different things that happen in life,” she says.

The well-being report, which was commissioned by the Commissioner for Children and Young People, Michelle Scott found more than a third of the children surveyed said they had too much stress in their lives and 60 per cent had been bullied.

Programs like Aussie Optimism may provide schools with far more support than the 50 school psychologists recently promised by Education Minister Liz Constable. Yet Ms Ho says the government should do more to support children.

“Having a school psychologist is not a bad thing, but I guess that shouldn’t be seen as a bandaid approach,” she says.

“There should be things in schools already that want to help children, as opposed to ‘let’s just refer them to the school psychologist.’… It’s a cultural thing for the school to take when it looks at promoting mental health and wellbeing.”

Aussie Optimism has been running for 13 years, with over 4400 students completing the program across 400 schools in WA, Queensland, NSW and recently in Singapore.

The program has had proven success, with studies showing a decrease in destructive behaviour later in life.

“Children who go through the program are less likely to take up drinking, smoking and drug use.”

Aussie Optimism also won the Youth Life Award at the Suicide Prevention Awards in 2008.

The program is currently running with the support of the Mental Health Commission.

The subsidies provided by the Commission covers the cost of research and training teachers, while the books are only $6.50, ensuring the program remains affordable to all schools.

Ms Ho says she would like to see mental health become a larger priority in schools in the new national curriculum.

“It would be nice to see that mental health and wellbeing would be a common component for all schools within Australia.”

Ms Ho also says listening to children is the key to helping to alleviate their issues.

“I think what’s really important is that children’s opinions and thoughts are being surveyed, where-as opposed to in the past, a lot of previous research would have not just relied on children’s answers, they would have also talked to parents and teachers.”

To hear some of the interview with Margaret Ho click on the link below.

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