By Cam Lucadou-Wells
We need more empathy and compassion for what students endure, says Dandenong High School PE teacher and university educator Sara Villiers.
She jumped at the chance to take part in a free public mental-health forum at Dandenong High School on 21 August.
One challenge is the information-rich world that saturates a young person’s growing mind.
“Young people are taking in more information now than anyone before them,” Ms Villiers says.
“They’re absorbing all of that in trying to make sense of the world and who they should be.”
But on the other hand, struggles are rarely shared on ever-pervasive social media platforms. We get “curated” snap-shots rather than the back stories, Ms Villiers says.
“We are only seeing the amazing things that people are doing, not the struggles.
“It sets up this expectation that we should attain this level of perfection.”
Ms Villiers wants more emphasis on social and emotional wellbeing in schools – not just academic scores.
It is not just good in itself, but leads to better academic results, she argues.
“Schools are struggling to keep up with it. Even in teachers – one in four adults will have a mental illness.
“Mental health issues are on the rise, cardio and cancer rates are on the rise – we’ve fallen into the trap of always needing to be busy.
“We should make space to spend time with family and friends, and doing things together.”
Ms Villiers’ empathy comes from hard personal experience.
At 16, she sought help for depression. And it took some time to find the right professional with the right treatment, she says.
Six years later, she had her first panic attack.
“When I went through it, it still wasn’t something spoken about.”
More are speaking more about mental well-being and illness, but still many dismiss it and are reluctant to acknowledge their struggles, Ms Villiers said.
“We need to normalise help-seeking – that’s why I got into this space.”
Currently on leave, Ms Villiers started her own business The Metanoia Movement. It’s a resource for parents, schools and teachers to help them understand emotions.
And to “use strengths to overcome challenges,” she says.
“I want teachers to work with students to find their own strategies.
“To use their strengths, which have a positive impact on their health, wellbeing and decision making.”
The Mental Health Forum is held by Rotary Club of Greater Dandenong. Other speakers include Christina Molina of headspace, and psychiatrist Greg de Moore.
It is at Melaleuca Theatre, Dandenong High School, David Street, Dandenong on Wednesday 21 August, 7pm. Free entry, gold coin donations for mental health research (via Australian Rotary Health) are welcome.