One in every five Australians experience a mental illness each year (ABS, 2009). One in four 16 to 24 year olds experienced a mental health disorder in a 12-month period (ABS, 2007). Roughly 75% of mental illness and substance abuse disorders emerge before 25 years of age; half of all lifetime cases of mental illness begin by age 14 (Kessler et al, 2007). One in four, 16/17-year-old girls have self-harmed (Lawrence et al, 2015). Suicide is currently the leading cause of death in Australia for those aged 15 – 24 with 362 deaths recorded in Australia for this age group in 2014 (AIHW, 2015). In the average Year 12 classroom, one young person would have attempted suicide (AIHW, 2007). Depression is the leading cause of disability worldwide and projected to be the leading cause of the disease burden globally by 2030 (World Health Organisation, 2015).

Mental health is one of Australia’s nine National Health Priority Areas (Australian Institute of Health and Welfare, 2013). The Australian Psychological Society (2012) recommended that the student psychologist ratio should not exceed 500 students for one full time psychologist. In Australia approximately 14% of children and adolescents have mental health problems and only one in four receives professional help (De Jong & Griffiths 2008). Only 23 % of those aged 16 – 24 years who experienced a mental disorder in the preceding 12 months accessed health services (AIHW, 2011). 70% of young women and 80% of young men who experience a mental illness are receiving no help at all. (Slade et al, 2009).

Wellbeing is defined as ‘the combination of feeling good, functioning well and doing good for others’ (Rusk and Waters, 2015). The emphasis of positive psychology on wellbeing, flourishing, character, meaning and virtue also aligns strongly with the ethos of whole-student learning in 21st century schooling. Positive education is defined as ‘applied positive psychology in education’, and researchers suggest that there are a growing number of schools now using ‘positive psychology interventions’ (Green, Odes and Robinson, 2011).

As well as supporting student learning, preventative mental health strategies may also provide an indirect means of addressing the alarmingly high rates of mental health difficulties experienced by Australian children and young people (Kvalsvig, O’Connor, Redmond, & Goldfeld, 2014). Researchers in the positive education movement argue that schools can ‘teach both the skills of wellbeing and the skills of achievement’ without compromising either (Seligman, et al., 2009). Research is mounting to show that student wellbeing is positively related to academic performance (Durlak, Weissberg, Dymnicki, Taylor, and Schellinger, 2011). Meta Analysis of 213 studies (270, 034 students) found an average 11 percentile point increase in academic achievement in schools with social and emotional learning programs (Durlak et al, 2011). Study of schools that taught positive education found that two years later the well being of the students was significantly higher and the standardized test results of the students was also significantly higher (Adler, 2015).

Retaining teachers, and boosting their own wellbeing is a necessity. Teachers are the most valuable resource available to a school (Rowe, 2003). When teachers become burned out, or worn out, their students’ achievement outcomes are likely to suffer because they are more concerned with their personal survival (Hane, 2013). “You can’t expose kids to languishing adults and expect them to flourish” (Keyes, 2002). The quality of a school system rests on the quality of its teachers (Barber and Mourshed, 2007). A significant body of research indicates that other than the student themselves, teachers are the most important influence on student learning (Hattie, 2003; Rowe, 2003).

Employee wellbeing is linked with customer satisfaction, productivity, presenteeism and effort at work, lower voluntary turnover and fewer absenteeism/sick days (Giardini and Frese, 2008; Wright and Bonett, 2007; Keyes, 2005). Businesses that implement effective mental health strategies will more than double their investment, receiving an average return of $2.30 for every $1 invested (PricewaterhouseCoopers, 2014).  Encouraging workplace outcomes include lower absenteeism, improvement in communication, morale and tone, increased job satisfaction, better relationships, greater level of meaning and purpose in work, and more productivity.

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