Important reminder about mental health and wellbeing

President Obama’s former Chief of Staff observed that, ‘You never want a good crisis to go to waste.’ While such comments are confronting in the face of the great tragedy, pain and loss associated with COVID-19, there has also been some important lessons to be learnt and perhaps opportunities to be seized particularly in the importance of mental health and wellbeing. The Australian Catholic Bishop’s Conference recently released their annual Social Justice Statement and it was perhaps a timely message, with its focus on mental health. The statement referenced the words of Pope John Paul II who said: ‘Whoever suffers from mental illness always bears God’s image and likeness in themselves, as does every human being.’ This Statement, made 25 years ago, encourages communities like Marist College Canberra to be places of welcome and inclusion, overcoming the barriers and stigma often faced by people experiencing mental ill-health. 

Certainly, the COVID-19 pandemic has reinforced our understanding that mental health is a delicate beast requiring constant attention and not to be taken for granted. I have admired the increasing number of celebrities and sportspeople who have publicly announced their battles with mental health. Fortunately, in recent years, much progress has been made to view mental issues as a medical condition, requiring a similar amount of understanding and support as any life-threatening illness. 

The research, however, also informs us of the unwillingness of some young men to seek assistance for mental health issues as perceptions of frailty prevail. Unfortunately, we still live in a world where, if you break your arm everybody wants to sign your casts, but if you tell people you are depressed, everybody wants to run away; this is the stigma Pope John Paul II warned us against! We are so accepting of any body part breaking down except our brains and this has created a world that still does not understand mental health. 

At Marist College Canberra, we recognise that our young men need strategies to help them deal successfully with modern living. We remain an advocate for school being more than just a place for achieving academic excellence. It is about preparing young people for adult life, in particular, how to deal with its inevitable challenges, setbacks and failures. Rather than waiting for depression to occur, and then treating the symptoms, our aim is to focus on cultivating positive emotions and character traits. Part of our student welfare program involves the explicit teaching of positive psychology programs to lead students to increased levels of resilience, improved critical thinking skills and the development of positive emotion through reflection, and identifying signature strengths.