How to help young people when their wellbeing is impacting their connection and engagement with school

The Problem We know that young people are concerned about their mental health According to the 2021 Mission Australia youth survey report: 51.5% of young people identified mental health being a barrier to achieving their work or study goals. Alarmingly,...

The Problem

We know that young people are concerned about their mental health

According to the 2021 Mission Australia youth survey report:

51.5% of young people identified mental health being a barrier to achieving their work or study goals. Alarmingly, amongst gender diverse young people, this jumped to 83.2%. 

School disengagement has been reported as a particular concern during the COVID-19 pandemic. Wellbeing staff in our school communities have told us that some students just “don’t seem to care” about their education or lack the motivation at school to focus and learn.

When young people are struggling to cope and manage their mental health, it is more difficult for them to focus on other areas of their lives such as school and everything that comes with that, from academic performance to friend and teacher relationships and even down to the effort that’s required to simply turn up each day.

When a young person is struggling with anxiety or depression, it is quite typical for sleep to be a problem area. This of course impacts their ability to get to school, concentration levels and mood.

According to the Black Dog Institute “Adolescents commonly struggle to get the recommended 8-10 hours of sleep each night, with research indicating that about 40% of young people will experience some form of sleep problem by early high school.”

Considering this, it’s no wonder young people see mental health as a barrier to study goals.

Switching out of ‘Fix it mode’

At Raise, we emphasise to our mentors the “power of showing up” and meeting young people where they are, consistently. This means talking to a young person when it’s right for them and being able to find ways to help them on their terms. Raise mentoring programs are structured to run on the same day and time each week, offering young people a consistent and reliable outlet to discuss their concerns or seek support.

It can be really tempting as parents and adults, to jump into “fix it” mode, often trying to problem solve and immediately offer solutions particularly when we can see that young person is struggling. We advise Raise mentors not problem solve, but instead guide teens to navigate their own way towards possible solutions or goals that are more achievable to them.

Start by being present and offering an open, easy situation for them to discuss their challenges and feelings. You can always ask them how they’d like you to help as well as the ideas they might have. Often barriers or challenge can seem so big in teenagers’ minds, it’s just about reminding them that you don’t have to eat the pizza in one mouthful, you can eat one slice at a time.


Taking small steps:

We need to take the time to establish trust, ask the right questions and be patient and empathic to teenage experiences. Normalising mental health challenges and encouraging help seeking behaviours can also strengthen a young person’s confidence.

Back to the one slice at a time, we need to encourage realistic goal setting and not biting off more than we can chew. It’s better to do something small than nothing at all.

If a young person is feeling stressed by an upcoming assessment and worried about the results, the goals needn’t be about a higher result. The goal could be around doing 2 hours of study the day before, or even just showing up and having a go at completing it – by reducing the goals to smaller steps, the pressure is reduced and the anxiety associated can be alleviated.

There are some really simple small steps that young people can change on a daily basis that can help them make gradual improvements to things such as sleep that will impact their overall wellbeing:

  • 10 mins of exercise each day – walk the dog, shoot hoops, swim at the beach whatever is easy and most accessible. This doesn’t mean signing up for the gym or finding a soccer team to join, it’s the smallest step you can take to head in the direction of a more active lifestyle to boost your mental health
  • Going to bed earlier – discuss the sleep routine and talk through ideas that might help this like shutting of social media an hour earlier or setting an alarm for the morning– even just ten mins earlier so there’s time for a bite to eat before heading out the door.
  • Healthier eating – on that note, small steps that contribute to healthy diet and eating patterns like a piece of fruit each morning or the challenge of no Maccas for a week are great for building good habits.
  • Keeping note and using digital for good – there are a range of apps that are designed to help young people take these small steps as well offering tools like meditation for sleep and gratitude diaries which have also been proven to make a difference to our mental state (Headspace appCalm appSmiling Mind  Biteback)
  • Taking small steps to improve wellbeing as well as making realistic goals that make challenges less overwhelming can combine to be an effective way to start breaking down the barriers that are making young people feel disengaged with school.

If you are looking to make a difference in 2022, want to develop youth support skills or help young people in your community – volunteer to mentor! Find out more here: