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Mental health and wellbeing nurse in schools a game-changer

“When we look at the difficult issue of suicide we know more than 50 per cent have never sought help. This is about creating a web of support for young people, early on.”

Nurse Jen Mina, who is a former clinical mental health specialist at Sydney Children’s Hospital, said she joined the WHIN program in May to work more closely in early intervention of young people.

‘When we look at the difficult issue of suicide we know more than 50% have never sought help.’

Nationals Deputy Leader Bronnie Taylor,

Based in western Sydney, including at Merrylands Public School, most of Ms Mina’s students this year were from COVID-positive families heavily impacted by harsh lockdown restrictions during the Delta outbreak.

“One of my roles is to provide outreach services, the mental health toolbox,” she said. “So that also included delivery of food hampers, referring families to seek financial assistance, health and vaccination advice and translated resources.”

Nurses in the program are employed by NSW Health but embedded on school grounds and work across several schools in their area.

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The Urbis Economic and Social Advisory evaluation of the pilot program from 2018 to 2020 found nurses supported complex cases, “including students with experience of severe mental health issues, sexual assault, and the suicide of family members”.

The success of the program in schools could be enhanced through stronger collaboration between NSW Health and the Department of Education, the review said.

Batemans Bay Public School Principal Kel Smerdon was a principal in Young in 2018 when the pilot program was launched and said professional support had been critical to supporting rural isolated families who are often dealing with multi-generational traumas.

“In regional NSW we have impacts of drugs on family units, housing is also a significant mental health stressor, particularly now and especially in bushfire impacted areas, like Batemans Bay,” he said.

“These families need somebody to help you get simple things, someone who can control multiple facets of a struggling family’s life. It’s a wraparound service.”

While the independent review of the WHIN program found it had the potential to be expanded, it also found some school staff had a poor understanding of the role, suggesting “it was not well integrated with the school’s teaching and wellbeing system”.

If you or anyone you know needs support, call Kids Helpline on 1800 55 1800 or Lifeline on 131 114.

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