As the daughter of a psychiatric nurse, Julia Gillard was only a girl when given an insight into the then-hidden world of mental health and illness.
Decades later, after surviving the stresses and strains of political life, the former prime minister has launched a revamped beyondblue program for high schools.
“Evidence suggests half of mental health conditions emerge by age 14, so this work with impressionable young people in the school environment is vitally important,” she said.
The MindMatters revamp, launched at Adelaide’s Unley High School where she went in the 1970s, provides high school staff with online resources and personal support to help improve the mental health and well being of students.
Half of Australia’s teachers say they don’t have the time to focus on the mental health of their students, according to a survey of 600 teachers and principals.
One in five are not confident handling mental health issues in their students.
beyondblue chairman Jeff Kennett said the MindMatters training is flexible and manageable for teachers who are already time-poor.
“Students will be taught how to deal with change, stress and anxiety and that learning will stay with them for the rest of their lives,” he said.
“We have got to spend more money on prevention than after the event.”
Mr Kennett said modern day teenagers are dealing with a lot more pressures than in his day, including social media bullying, and the program lets them know they are not alone.
Ms Gillard said her father took her to ward parties in Adelaide’s Glenside psychiatric hospital at a time when society closed the doors on mental health and illness.
People covered up family mental issues, depression and suicides, but “fortunately, we now live in a different era”.
Mental health issues affect people in all walks of life, she said, noting politics was a “very publicly exposed profession” that brings particular stresses and strains.
Being involved in politics requires a lot of resilience, she said.
Programs like MindMatters are trying to build community and individual resilience to stresses.