A teacher from Kingsgrove High School has set her sights on one of the biggest health issues facing the education system in Australia, and for this she has already been rewarded for her ambitious goal.
Tiffany Barreca has received a 2020 Premier's Teacher nod, as the recipient of the Premier's Anika Foundation Youth Depression Awareness Scholarship.
She was among 20 of the state's best teachers who had their commitment to quality education rewarded this year.
The scholarships, which are open to all NSW teachers from government and non-government schools and preschools, TAFE NSW Institutes, provide recipients with funds for a five-week study tour.
Tours give teachers with the opportunity to study their field of expertise at highly acclaimed international schools and centres for teaching and learning.
They broaden the recipients' professional horizons and benefit students from the new knowledge, teaching methods and skills brought back to their classrooms.
The Anika Foundation scholarship is open to teachers, head teachers of student welfare, school counsellors and health, physical education and personal development teachers currently teaching students at risk of youth depression within NSW schools and TAFE NSW campuses.
Applicants are recognised for focusing on preventing depression in young people or building awareness of youth depression.
In May next year, Ms Barreca will visit top academic institutions in the US, including Berkeley and Stanford, where she will conduct interviews, observe exemplary practices and collect resources for the preparation of teaching materials related to a specific aspect of youth depression awareness.
It's a challenging undertaking but an area of passion for the English teacher, whose background in working with disadvantaged students in crisis situations opened her eyes to a desire for change.
Ms Barreca submitted a proposal titled 'The Heart of Education', which detailed a compassionate approach to mental health in schools. It focuses on not only student, but also staff well-being.
It comes as September 12 marks R U OK? Day, a national campaign to encourages people to check in on one another.
"The sense of connection and community seems to be breaking down, there is no sense of belonging," she said. "Most teachers are aware of the problem but the statistics seem to be stable or are getting worse."
"I'm looking at a paradigm shift, not a solution, in the way we talk about mental health. It's rare for people to feel comfortable talking about it in professional settings as there is a culture of silence, and that's literally killing us.
"This is about getting to the heart of the issue where we simply listen and have a trauma-informed response to find out where wounds and vulnerabilities comes from, and sharing experiences with staff so we can model it back to the kids.
"I want to set Kingsgrove High up as a centre of excellence and learning hub that inspires other schools around the state so they can become better and braver than ever before."