Now think of the teacher, who is doing all they can to educate and support classes of up to 25 students, sometimes more. In that instance dealing with one anxious student is difficult, now add two or three, perhaps even up to five or six students – placing the teacher at breaking point.
Teachers are under enormous pressure to adapt, as anxiety often sees students away from the classroom for several days, multiple times through the school year, placing further pressure on teachers to catch the students back up on their studies, while attempting to keep the pressure down.
Add in a pandemic, home learning, growing class sizes, limited resources and access to psychological support and what we can say is: Australia we have a problem.
It is not only about students, with parents also feeling stressed and anxious. In fact, as a nation we have never been so stressed, with the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW) warning even before the pandemic that almost half of Australians will experience a mental health disorder at least once in their life.
As we know from the record call rates to Kids Helpline and record attendance of those under 18 to Emergency Departments during the COVID crisis for mental health-related issues, this an epidemic that is severely impacting our children.
Our children are today surrounded by an atmosphere of anxiety, something that is understandable in our already pressured and now COVID-impacted world, so it is not surprising that a child is influenced by the anxiety in the home and the world around them.
This has left us with stressed and anxious students, who are facing the real potential of lifelong mental health issues, teachers who, given the increasing stress in the workload, are reconsidering their careers, and stressed and anxious parents turning to schools with desperate pleas for help.
Schools are doing all they can, with principals and senior leaders doing their best to support teachers, using all resources at their disposal, including calling on psychologists to step in and help.
To the credit of both the state and federal governments there is at least some money available to provide access to some form of psychological services. In some instances, the school psychologist may visit the school each week as part of an allocated workload, in other schools support is purchased as needed.
Anxiety is a treatable condition. Given time and support a psychologist can guide a child through, but we as a community need to make immediate investments to bring more psychologists into the school system.
It is not only up to psychologists, who need to be supported by qualified youth and social workers who can provide further support to students and assist in reducing the stress of the household.
The growing rate of anxiety is no one’s fault, but it must be addressed for the sake of our children.
Malcolm Elliott is president of the Australian Primary Principals Association.