If Robyn Zelvis could wave a magic wand, she would vanquish the stigma surrounding mental health issues.
The school counsellor and senior psychologist, based at Dapto High School, wishes people were more open to understanding the difficulties that young people face today.
“I’d like all adults to understand that it’s our job to help our young people with their social and emotional learning so that they are better equipped to deal with life’s obstacles,” Zelvis says.
“As a school counsellor, I am directly involved with adolescents with mental health issues as well as those who are at risk of suicide,” she says. “I believe that schools and educators are in a great position to be able to positively impact on the wellbeing of our young people.”
According to the results of the 2015 Mission Australia Youth Survey, young people are most concerned about coping with stress, dealing with school problems and feeling good about body image. It further highlighted that one in five respondents were either extremely concerned or very concerned about depression. The beyondblue website highlights that one in four young Australians has a mental health condition with one in 16 currently experiencing depression.
“Teachers are in the front-line with young people every day,” Zelvis says. “I encourage all teachers and school staff to develop strong rapport with their students and to encourage their social and emotional learning. If a young person demonstrates any symptomatology of depression I encourage teachers to continue to maintain a strong relationship with the young person, to talk to them about their difficulties to help to destigmatise mental health problems but to also refer the young person to the school counsellor who is in the best position to provide psychological support and follow up.”
Zelvis was recently awarded the NSW Premier’s Anika Foundation Youth Depression Awareness Scholarship. The Anika Foundation focuses on raising awareness and supporting research about adolescent depression and youth suicide.
With a big-picture vision of introducing mindfulness programs into the school curriculum from kindergarten right through to year 12, Zelvis will set off on a study tour of schools in the US, Canada, London and Perth where such programs have been implemented.
She will begin by attending a conference, Bridging the Hearts and Minds of Youth, in San Diego. From there she will travel to a remote area in the North West Territories in Canada to visit a school in the Arctic Circle where mindfulness is practised by the whole school.
“This will be particularly interesting given the extreme seasonal variations and the subsequent higher risk of depression in these areas,” Zelvis says.
Visits to schools in Toronto, London and Perth where mindfulness is promoted will complete Zelvis’ journey and give her plenty of food for thought to share with local school counsellors upon her return.