Extra Support For Student Mental Health – State Government Funds Student Support Officers for Schools on Coffs Coast

Woolgoolga High School SSO, Daniel Sweed, works with student mentors. Photo: supplied by Woolgoolga HS.


MANY young people are at risk of mental health issues, and it often falls on schools to provide the assistance they need.

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The Member for Coffs Harbour Gurmesh Singh recently announced that Coffs Harbour High, Orara High, Toormina High and Woolgoolga High schools are among the first to be funded for a Student Support Officer in NSW.

Mr Singh said, “This is part of the Government’s $88.4 million commitment to provide every public high school in NSW with a full-time counselling support service on site as well as a Student Support Officer.”

Orara High School Principal, Malcolm McFarlane, said that the school had previously been funded for a part-time Student Support Officer, and welcomed the funding for a full time position.

He went on to say, “A positive environment is fundamental for student well-being, with support from skilled professionals who can connect with young people”.

Paul Humphrey, Principal of Toormina High School, says that, “Student mental health is a big issue in schools, particularly with girls. Social media has a significant impact.

“Students are often too young to make “wise” choices when posting on social media,” he said.

Toormina High School’s new Student Support Officer has recently joined the school’s wellbeing team and will run mediation and wellbeing programs, meet with students and report to senior staff when necessary, and simply be available to students.

Daniel Sweed, the Student Support Officer at Woolgoolga High School, agreed with Mr. Humphrey.

“The main issues are social or emotional. Social media causes a lot of headaches,” he said.

Woolgoolga High School has funded Mr. Sweed’s position for almost four years, but he, like the School Support Officers at other high schools, is now a permanent staff member.

“It’s a really varied role. There is a lot of individual support for students,” Mr Sweed said.

He has a counselling qualification but points out that the School support Officer role does not involve formal counselling.

Students might be referred to the school counsellor, school psychologist or deputy principal.

Mr. Sweed runs programs about anxiety, anti-bullying, cyber safety and anger management and facilitates a mentoring program called SMILE (Support Mentor Inspire listen and Encourage).

He also trains senior students to become mentors for younger students and conduct events in the school such as fundraising and anti-bullying programs.

Mr. Sweed’s experience is that student issues range from forgetting to bring lunch through to major issues.

“Many students just want to have a chat and be listened to,” he said.

“I love it – it’s a great job.”


By Andrew VIVIAN

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