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Education and

Mental Health

Key message

Investing in education in parallel to mental health pays transformative dividends to children, families, and their communities.

Education and mental health are mutually reinforcing. Children with good mental health are better able to learn and develop emotionally, and access to education in turn improves their mental health and sense of self. Schools can provide safe, nurturing environments that offer children the stability and routine to grow emotionally, psychologically, and socially. Education is essential if we want to create a healthy society of individuals able to cope with the stresses of life and make productive, meaningful contributions to realise their full potential.
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Key challenges
  • Persistent stress and poor mental health can impact on children’s learning levels. Children experiencing stress and poor mental health are prone to disrupted brain development, with long-lasting consequences to their ability to learn and function as successful adults.
    (Ritchie & Roser, 2018)  (Patton et al., 2016)  (Shonkoff & Garner, 2012)
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  • Better educated young people have better mental health. Adolescents with lower-secondary education are half as likely to experience problems related to mental health and depression than those with only a primary school education.
    (Ritchie & Roser, 2018)  (Patton et al., 2016)  (Shonkoff & Garner, 2012)
  • Schools serve as important community hubs to deliver critical mental health services. Schools can connect healthcare professionals, communities, teachers, parents and students. Particularly in resource-poor contexts, the lack of health facilities can mean that schools and teachers may be the only channels for children and families to obtain psychosocial support.
    (Vostanis, 2016)  (Fazel and Betancourt, 2014)  (Munz & Melcop, 2018)
  • School-based mental health education yields high returns. Every US dollar invested in social-emotional learning interventions in schools can yield a return of US$11. Normalising and prioritising mental health from an early age makes financial sense. Globally, depression and anxiety lead to 15 billion lost days of work every year, at an estimated annual cost of US$1.15 trillion.
    (Belfield et al., 2015)  (Chisholm et al., 2016)
  • Education gives children hope. Quality education can build resilience, and nurture social and emotional development, restoring hope and providing opportunities and positive expectations for the future.
    (Nicolai, 2009)  (INEE, 2010)
  • Schools equip children and youth who have experienced conflict or disruption with essential psychosocial support. Investment in education-based psychosocial support creates stable routines and opportunities for friendship and play, reduces stress, provides a sense of belonging, dignity and hope, encourages self-expression, and promotes collaborative behaviour, which are often undermined by migration or displacement.
    (UNESCO, 2010)  (Masten et al., 2013)  (INEE, 2019)
  • Schools deliver essential skills and tools to help students cope with trauma. Schools can help children deal with trauma through psychosocial support, through building self-confidence and emotional regulation skills, and fostering relationships based on trust. Syrian refugee students participating in school-based cognitive behavioural therapy demonstrated a significant decrease in anxiety, with symptoms of PTSD dropping by one-third.
    (Gormez et al., 2017)  (Betancourt et al., 2013)
  • Education and psychosocial support are particularly helpful for children in emergencies. Approximately 24 million children living in conflict today could be experiencing high levels of stress and have mild to moderate mental health disorders needing an appropriate level of support. An additional seven million children are at risk of developing severe mental health disorders.
    (Save the Children, 2019)
  • Education provides stability and a sense of normalcy. Education can create structure, routine, and predictability in an otherwise disrupted life, helping children understand their chaotic environment and providing a sense of belonging.
    (INEE, 2010)
  • Education is a conduit for healing and creating healthy communities after crisis. Education can encourage resilience and help communities rebuild by healing some of the trauma and encouraging social cohesion, reconciliation and peacebuilding.
    (Nicolai, 2009)  (Novelli and Smith, 2011)
  • Schools are indispensable settings to champion the wellbeing of migrant and refugee students and families settling in a new community or country. Schools connect these children with the host culture, helping lay or rebuild a healthy social-emotional base to best prepare them for success. In Australia, school refugee wellbeing and transition committees have successfully helped families adjust to new learning environments and address psychosocial needs, while providing opportunities for the host communities to learn from a diversity of cultures.
    (UNESCO, 2019)  (Foundation House, 2016)
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Key talking points
  • Education and mental health are mutually reinforcing.
  • Stress and poor mental health in the early stages of development can hinder learning.
  • Schools can provide essential psychosocial support for children, promoting improved mental health and helping young people reach their full potential.
  • School-based mental health interventions yield high economic returns for individuals and their communities.
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