Shire matters with Mark Speakman: Young people and wellbeing

Mark Speakman with student leaders at Caringbah Public School in December, 2020
Mark Speakman with student leaders at Caringbah Public School in December, 2020

New South Wales may still be a few weeks away from further lifting of COVID-19 restrictions, but that's no reason for this school holiday to be treated as a 'write-off'.

These two weeks will be an important time for school students to rest and recharge, to connect with family and friends in COVID-safe gatherings and to reflect on their learning.

Over the past term, children and young people throughout NSW have had to grapple with a level of disruption not seen in generations.

Some students have discovered their resilience and flourished during home learning. But for many others, being isolated from classmates has taken an adverse toll on their social and emotional wellbeing.

The NSW Government is partnering with mental health organisations like Headspace, Reach Out, Kids Helpline and the Black Dog Institute to provide evidence-based resources to support staff and students during this particularly difficult period.

Schools across the state are running wellbeing workshops and students have access to more than 3,000 non-teaching staff including school counsellors, school psychologists, student support officers and a network of specialist facilitators, wellbeing nurses, school chaplains and school learning support officers.

Students and their families need to know how to recognise signs and symptoms of stress and anxiety and to have the confidence to seek help when they need it.

The online Care and Connect Hub (https://education.nsw.gov.au/teaching-and-learning/learning-from-home/wellbeing/care-and-connect) is a good starting point for accessing wellbeing resources for students of all ages.

There are a number of strategies you can use at home to support a young person's wellbeing during this time. Encourage them to remain physically active.

Talk to them about their concerns - it might help allay some of their fears. Never underestimate the power of regular conversations with your kids. Highlight the importance of staying connected with friends virtually (if face-to-face contact is not possible). And make time to join in the fun yourself!

I congratulate every school student who has weathered the COVID storm this term and assure them: it will get better from here.

If you or a young person you know is struggling to cope, help is available. Contact the Kids Helpline anytime, for any reason. Their phone counselling is free at 1800 55 1800.

Lifeline can be contacted for crisis support on 13 11 14.