Schools feel strain as stress levels soar

May 04 2016 by EAP Services Limited

School teachers are increasingly being relied on as "social workers" as more students struggle with complex behavioural and mental health problems post-earthquake.

School principals say Government agencies geared up to support struggling children are under significant strain, and the Government has failed to provide enough funding to meet the level of demand.

Riccarton High School deputy principal Lisa Heald said the school has been dealing with more complex cases since the earthquakes. The school's two counsellors used to help students through the stress of exam weeks, she said, but since the earthquakes students they were dealing with an entirely new challenge.

"Now our counsellors are spending time with students with eating disorders, and more severe mental health issues, levels of depression and anxiety that are heading towards suicidal."

Heald said the school struggled to find support from outside agencies, including mental health services. As a result, teachers and support staff had to deal with the issues as best they could, but it meant students with simpler and less complex issues missed out. In addition, counsellors were unable to do preventative work because they were tied up at the other end.

"I really feel for schools on the east side... because whatever is going on here they've got it 10-fold over there," Heald said.


Linwood Avenue School principal Gerard Direen said it was a tough time for teachers, who found they were increasingly being relied on as "social workers".

Direen said some children were waiting 22 weeks to access child and family services, which was "far too long".

"While those children are waiting to be assessed and for some intervention to happen... the schools are seeing those kids every day."

He said that created an additional challenge for teachers, who were trained with some baseline skills, but they were not experts in psychology, he said.


Direen called for more funding. "I don't care if they've done a bit here and a bit there... it's not been enough."

The Ministry of Education has responded by introducing a school-based mental health team to Christchurch, which Direen described as a good idea, but more needed to be done.

"There's not enough [expert intervention] available – the waiting list to get to them is far too long and [the Government has not] released enough funding and found enough additional psychologists to work in the city."

Direen said the Red Cross grants for Christchurch schools had helped significantly since 2013, but that money had since dried up. He said it was an example of schools relying on outside help to meet the needs of vulnerable kids, when the Ministry of Education failed to provide enough support.

Ministry head of sector enablement and support Katrina Casey said several programmes were in place to support students and schools post-quake. That included extra funding of $10 million which would go toward "relieving staff, mentoring and employee assistance help".

"We support teachers to understand and work with individual children to address their particular needs and any concerning behaviour they may be exhibiting," Casey said.

EAP Services offers seminars and workshops along with Individual one-on-one counselling. We have a team of specialists available to assist with specific areas of concern. For further information please contact EAP Services on 0800 327 669.