By Grace Loke Tze Tan
A group of young Victorians from Melbourne’s northern community college successfully passed a Bill seeking to mandate counselling sessions in secondary schools at the Youth Parliament program.
Gabrielle Edwards, Maneesha Perera, Kate Hobbs, Ashlee Nguyen, Jade Luu and Natalie Watson developed the Compulsory counselling sessions in high school Bill for schools in all states of Victoria to provide at least one counselling session for all secondary students.
Miss Gabrielle Edwards said that this is to ensure everyone has a chance to access these services without a need to request.
“If the psychologist or the counsel feels that they need another session, then we will follow up to ensure that they get the support that they need after the first initial session,” said Gabrielle Edwards.
The mandate for counselling in school bill also aims to prevent the experience of mental distress and physical harm and provide secondary students with a safe space in school to openly discuss their problems.
Maneesha Perera said that the students should be able to discuss their problems without feeling the pressure of concealing their issues.
“We are trying to open a comfortable and relaxed safe space, where students can discuss anything, varying from their future aspirations to significant mental trauma,” Perera said, during her addressment of the Bill to Parliament.
According to Australia’s Youth: Mental Illness census data 2017-18, at least 330,000 young people aged 18-24 experience high or extremely high levels of psychological distress.
However, only 17% of children aged 4-17 years old had used services for their emotional and behavioural problems in a year, according to The Mental Health of Children and Adolescents study.
The sponsoring team of this Bill is from the Overnewton Anglican Community College, only aged 16 and 17 years old. The team gathered in the YMCA program alongside 120 students to debate mock bills in Victorian Parliament House two weeks ago.
All of the Bills that have passed will be addressed to Victorian Minister for Youth Ros Spence, for consideration when developing youth policies.
Before the Bill was passed, the Overnewton team had pondered over a possible rebuttal regarding the ‘compulsory’ act of counselling sessions from opposing team in the debate, as well as experts.
Occupational Therapist Chrissy Hubbard at SeenXHeard said that looking for counselling should be “voluntarily”, and students should not be forced to attend one.
“I think making counselling mandatory could diminish a young person’s active help-seeking,” she said.
“It needs to be something that they choose to do.”
Nevertheless, the Overnewton team addressed that the wording of the Bill does not justify their intentions of wanting schools to provide a “safe space” for all secondary students in Victoria.
“We know that the wording of our bill isn’t perfect, but we are not lawmakers,” said Gabrielle Edwards, one of the participating members.
“The focus on the wording is taking away from this amazing concept that could potentially save lots of lives.”
Overnewton team member Kate Hobbs said that by providing a mandate, it regulates Victorian schools to ensure counselling sessions are provided to all secondary students.
“I think if we change the wording of the bill, it removes the intention of it being compulsory,” said Miss Hobbs.
Despite certain disagreements with mandating counselling sessions in secondary schools, the success in passing the Bill speaks a sign of hope for the team and the future of young children in assessing mental health services.
“Urgent mental healthcare is needed for our Victorian youths in an accessible and fair manner, this Bill provides exactly that,” said Miss Maneesha Perera.
“We need to support our youth proactively.”
More information: Youth Press Gallery
Grace Loke Tze Tan is a second year Bachelor of Arts (Linguistics and Chinese Studies) student at La Trobe University