Counsellor’s Corner: A Culture for Better Mental Health

I reassure young people experiencing poor mental health that they are still normal. To say this doesn't mean that we should ignore it, however.
Mr Mtho Ngcanga, College Counsellor

“Mental health” has copped some negative press over the years. Despite advances in awareness and understanding, it still holds a considerable stigma in Australia. Negative attitudes, beliefs and misconceptions can make dealing with mental illness harder than it should be.

The way we see “mental health” should be no different to how we see physical health. Over a lifetime, the average person sits at many points along the continuum of health. When a young person faces challenging life circumstances coupled with emotional and physical changes as they mature, they can easily slide from wellness towards the unwell or even “ill” end of the mental health spectrum.

If a student comes to see me, I reassure them that their mental health is normal. To say this does not mean we should ignore it, though. The first step in successfully treating mental illness starts with accepting the reality of poor mental health and speaking openly about it. The culture they encounter in my office and what they find outside of it have repercussions on their response to treatment. In a way, a child or teenager’s view of mental health has an impact on their mental health!

My vision for BAC is a community that supports any state of mental health. It starts with each of us as individuals and as sub-units within the community—families, staff and teachers, and churches. Each has a role to play in the welfare of our community and our children.

What does this mean for us as a school community? We can:

  1. Use positive language that supports mental health and wellbeing: “Are you okay?”, “I’m listening”, “That must be difficult”, “Is there anything I can do to support you right now?
  2. Actively care for our mental health and the mental wellbeing of those around us: seek balance, stay connected, seek support, and look out for healthy lifestyle choices.
  3. Intentionally check in with children to see how they are travelling with their mental wellbeing: observe, follow up, create a safe space, model coping skills, and seek professional help when necessary.
  4. Be conscious of our impact on the mental wellbeing of our young people: seek help and support for ourselves when we need it, cultivate self-awareness, and practise healthy coping strategies.
  5. Do something daily that supports our own and our children’s mental wellbeing: go for a walk, read a book, sit down for dinner together.

By raising awareness and breaking down the stigma associated with challenges to mental health, we take the first steps in providing effective support and maybe even preventing long-term illness. A supportive environment for young people looks like a sturdy tree. Teachers and parents are the root system that anchors the tree, providing stability, strength, and nourishment. The branches represent open communication, trust, support systems, and coping mechanisms that offer young people and the whole community shade, connection, and protection. Together, roots and branches create a sanctuary for us all to feel empowered, develop resilience, and thrive.

Counsellor’s Corner is a series by College Counsellor Mr Mtho Ngcanga