In this section
Good mental health in children is fundamental to their development. It helps children to learn well and enjoy life. Unfortunately, not all children have what they need to support their mental health.
Schools are an ideal platform for promoting children’s mental health, identifying early signs of mental health concerns, and supporting referrals to community-based mental health services when necessary.
Mental Health in Primary Schools (MHiPS) is a new model of school mental health support. The project trains experienced teachers to become Mental Health and Wellbeing Leaders in primary schools.
Good mental health supports children in building positive thinking, emotional, behavioural and communication skills, and healthy relationships with family and friends. Having good mental health means having a positive sense of wellbeing, being able to cope with challenges and realise individual potential. This is just as important for children as it is for adults.
In Australia, over 8 per cent of children aged 4-11 years have a diagnosed mental health disorder, and 20 per cent of children experience mental health difficulties that impact daily living.
Mental health and wellbeing in primary school aged children is particularly complex. It can be difficult and overwhelming for teachers and parents to respond to the increasing prevalence and severity of mental health issues in the classroom, and understand how and where to access help for children that require additional support.
2020 the Centre for Community Child Health at the Murdoch Children’s Research
Institute (MCRI) partnered with the Melbourne Graduate School of Education
(MGSE) at the University of Melbourne to conceptualise the MHiPS initiative to
build the capacity of schools to support the mental health and wellbeing of
In partnership with the Department of Education (DE) Victoria, in early 2020 an extensive exploratory phase was
undertaken which included:
Participating pilot schools received funding
from DE to employ a MHWC to implement a whole- school approach to mental
health and wellbeing, and to build the capacity of primary school staff to
identify and respond to student mental health issues. The MHWL, a qualified
teacher, took up their role following participation in a comprehensive training
program; they also received ongoing support and professional development
through a structured Communities of Practice process. The role and the training
program combined to form the “MHWL model”.
as the Mental Health in Primary Schools (MHiPS) Pilot, implementation and
evaluation of the MHWL model was initiated in the 2020 school year in 10
Victorian government schools.
In 2021, funding from the Victorian Government
and the Ian Potter Foundation enabled expansion of the MHiPS pilot to an
additional 16 schools (see Darling, et al., 2021) . The Final Report from
the Royal Commission into Victoria’s Mental Health System (2021) 
recommended that the MHWL model be expanded further should it prove to be
effective, and in response the Victorian Government committed to a further
expansion of the pilot to 100 schools in 2022.
The 2022 expansion included 10 Catholic primary schools and 3
non-mainstream school settings, including 2 specialist schools and 1 English
Language (EAL) school.
June 2022 the Victorian Minister for Education and Mental Health announced
there would be a $200 million investment to support the statewide expansion of
the MHiPS program to all government, and low-fee non-government primary schools
from 2023 to 2026.
The Mental Health and Wellbeing Leader (MHWL) role and the training program combined to form the Mental Health and Wellbeing Leader model.
The MHWL is employed and funded a full-time
equivalency. To be recruited for the role the MHWL should have a teaching
qualification. The MHWL receives evidence-based training around supporting the
mental health needs of primary school students.
The role of the MHWL is to build the capability of the whole school
regarding student mental health and wellbeing (identification, promotion and
prevention). Specifically, the MHWL role
includes the following responsibilities:
The rationale for using a qualified teacher in
the role is based on three key factors: the nature of the required support,
resourcing needs in schools, and achieving strong implementation of the model.
The MHiPS Training Program comprises an induction session, four core modules: Mental Health Literacy, Building Capacity, Supporting Need, and a Community of Practice, with a combination of synchronous seminars, asynchronous online learning and on the job experiences.
The instructional design and delivery methods are based around a participant centred, problem-solving approach that preferences teaching the ‘doing’ of the role over ‘telling’ participants what they need to know. It draws on the learner’s existing knowledge and experiences to support contextual adaptation and differentiated learning. The training is also couched in a collaborative framework where self and peer evaluative and reflective practice is embedded both during and post-training. This approach develops and builds professional judgment and reasoning skills.
ongoing research component of the MHiPS program examines the implementation and
effectiveness of having a trained Mental Health and Wellbeing Leader within primary schools.
the pilot phase, it investigated the feasibility and acceptability of the
training program and the Mental Health and Wellbeing Leader role. The
ongoing evaluation of MHiPS is a multi-method (qualitative and quantitative
data), multi-site and multi- informant (MHWLs, school leaders, teachers, other
school staff, DET regional and/or central staff, parents/carers, students)
evaluation is designed to assess whether the MHWL model increases teachers’
confidence to support student mental health and wellbeing and builds the
capacity of primary schools to improve student mental health and wellbeing through
increased mental health literacy and access to supports and services.
The webinar explored primary students' mental health and wellbeing during COVID-19 and its impacts.
This webinar was part of the Thriving Children, Thriving Communities series. It described the Mental Health in Primary Schools (MHiPS) project – which places a trained Mental Health and Wellbeing Coordinator as an additional resource in primary schools.
Prof Frank Oberklaid presented at the IPSHA National Conference in Adelaide on May 28, 2022. Take a look at his presentation.
MHiPS is making history. The project received $200 million
in state funding to support 1800 Victorian primary schools to build their
capacity in mental health. This is the largest amount of funding ever pledged
for student mental health in Australia.
The funding boost was announced on June 21, 2022, by the
Andrews Labor Government. The funding will enable MHiPS, initially piloted in
100 schools with success, to scale to every government and low-fee
non-government primary school in the state. The scale-up will occur from
2023-2026. Add hyperlink: More information here
The announcement reported that The Royal Commission into
Victoria’s Mental Health System helped to raise awareness of the role schools
can play in supporting children’s mental health.
“The Royal Commission into Victoria’s Mental Health System
highlighted that schools play an important role in identifying children with
mental health and wellbeing challenges who can then be referred to treatment,
care and support if needed.”
The MHiPS model helps to build primary school teachers’
confidence and skills in identifying children with mental health concerns and
helps establish clear pathways for children who need referrals for assessment,
intervention, monitoring and evaluation.
Feedback from the MHiPS pilot suggested that more than 95%
of leaders believe the MHiPS model improved their school’s capacity to support
student’s mental health.
For further information about the MHiPS program, check out the MHiPS website or email us at
The Centre for Community Child Health is a department of The Royal Children’s Hospital and a research group of Murdoch Childrens Research Institute.