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Primary school introduces mental health program for students

TIME TO ACT: Parent Sally Davies and St Joseph’s principal Anthony Weir are key supporters in the introduction of the KidsMatter program at the school. Picture by CATH BOWENThe prevalence of children battling anxiety will come into focus in Maitland today with the launch of a new national initiative.

Established as part of the National Mental Health Plan, the KidsMatter framework will be launched at St Joseph’s Primary School, East Maitland, in response to the growing number of children living with mental health issues.

The initiative coincides with a growing ­national call for action.

“One of the biggest issues we’ve noticed in the past few years is the increase of children with heightened levels of anxiety,” St Joseph’s Primary School principal Anthony Weir said.

“Children are anxious about being at school, anxious at coming to school, anxious about issues at home and we need to address these issues now before they get to high school.”

According to KidsMatter, evidence suggests that nearly half of all mental health problems begin before the age of 14.

In later childhood, it has been estimated that one in seven school-age children has a ­mental health problem such as anxiety, depression and ­behaviour problems, but only one in four get the help they need.

“We hear of kids who are a bit sad or a bit down and, where once we may have ­dismissed it, nowadays we are more attuned to listening carefully and ­giving assistance and support particularly proactively,” Mr Weir said.

“I mean these are little kids, and if we can give them the tools and strategies to improve their wellness and their ­wellbeing, chances are, as they become adults, they’ll bebetter equipped to deal with things.”

Parent Sally Davies has been part of the school’s KidsMatter framework planning since its inception.

“There are lots of issues ­children face as the world gets a ­little bit more complex, so it’s vitally important they can get the skills to be able to cope at this age then obviously that will flow on for the rest of their lives,” she said.

“And parents need to know they are not in this alone.”

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