Re-launch of Be You
Unley High School, Adelaide.
I acknowledge the traditional owners of the land on which we meet and in the spirit of reconciliation pay my respects to elders past and present.
It’s great to be with you as the new school year gets in full swing. I am not only a graduate of Unley High School, but I still have a family connection to the school. A big shout out to Alexandra and Yasmine, who very much enjoy being students here, and to Scarlett who has just started here this year.
While I left school quite a long time ago, Unley High School, and this hall in particular, hold many memories for me. I certainly remember my first assembly here, as one of the little kids down the front fresh from primary school. The sheer size of this room seemed overwhelming and I was sure it was impossible that I would ever grow enough to be one of the big kids at the back.
So, to anyone who is still a little scared of being here, I can promise you from personal experience, that you will end up confident in this environment.
And this school will give you so much more than a sense of being at home. It was here at Unley High that I really started to develop my values and thinking and what would turn out to be a life-long passion for education and learning.
It was hear that I first tried to be a leader. To this day, one of my prized possessions is my prefect tie from this school.
Holding that position here, I learned many things about myself and about the importance of listening to and learning from others.
I’ve taken those lessons into my adult life. First as a lawyer, later as Prime Minister of Australia and now, as Chair of Beyond Blue, which focuses on mental health and suicide prevention.
But not every day at school was easy for me. And while that felt hard at the time, with the benefit of hindsight, I realise that this school was teaching me another important lesson – the ability to deal with both success and setbacks.
For me successes mostly came in class and academic learning. I liked writing and particularly enjoyed debating. Given when I visited as Prime Minister this school unearthed my old report cards for the media to film and report on, it’s just as well I earned pretty good grades.
But fortunately, my old hockey stick was nowhere to be seen. I think everyone who saw me play knew I was never going to gain selection as a Hockeyroo.
The point is that in school, as in life, we experience success and we experience challenges – and sometimes failure. We excel in some areas and not in others.
I want to remind you that, while we can’t always control what happens to us and how others behave – we can control how we think about and react to the setbacks that all of us experience from time to time.
We don’t need to view failure as a source of shame, but rather as an opportunity to learn – a chance to reflect on who we are and to accept our differences.
Because every set back, every challenge, is a learning opportunity and it is these experiences that help build up our resilience to the inevitable curveballs that life throws at us.
As someone who has been in the public eye, I understand deeply the experience of always being scrutinised, and the importance of resilience.
I have always believed that resilience is like a muscle – the more you use it, the stronger it grows.
Looking back, this is one of the lessons I learned here at Unley without realising that I was, in fact, absorbing a life lesson that would come to mean so much.
Your school days are also a time to make life-long friendships and to learn how to be a better friend.
I still have friends today from my days at Unley – people I have known all my adult life.
And, it was here at Unley I learned not only how to be myself, but to try to see problems through the eyes of others. To take another person’s perspective.
These skills – self-acceptance, resilience, listening and empathy – will serve you well in life.
And the evidence shows these skills can be good for our mental health and wellbeing, too.
All this learning about academic content and life is only possible because you are at a great school with great teachers who come to work every day not only to teach you, but to guide and inspire you.
I am delighted this passion for helping you be the best you can be has led Unley High to sign up to a new initiative that puts all of you – and your wellbeing and mental health – front and centre in everything it does.
It’s called Be You and it was launched just last November.
Be You has been designed by Beyond Blue to create mentally healthy learning communities around the country. That’s really a complicated way of saying that a great school is one that realises that academic learning does not happen on its own, but alongside the development of your social and emotional skills. If you are happy and healthy – both physically and mentally – you will not only reach your full academic potential, but also have the opportunity to reach your full potential as a person.
We want Be You to reach every child so we are rolling out it out around the country in partnership with headspace and Early Childhood Australia.
We often see headlines about young people like you and the issues you face: anxiety, exam stress, bullying, worries about career choices and more.
The research tells us that 560,000 young Australians between the ages of 4 and 17 have had a mental health issue in the past year.
So, if you are one of these people, you are absolutely not alone.
And I know that if you have, or are, experiencing depression or anxiety, you are so much more than that label or diagnosis.
You need us to work with you, your family, your friends, your school and your community to find solutions.
And we know that the more we talk openly about these things, the more we stare down stigma and discrimination.
The earlier every one of us can spot the signs that something isn’t right… and encourage people to get the support they need… the greater the chance they will bounce back – or learn how to manage their depression or anxiety.
Because with the right support, from friends and loved ones, and with the encouragement of compassionate teachers – things get better.
We know that mental health issues are often picked up first by schools, and that young people often turn to their peers or teachers for help and advice.
And so we have designed Be You to support your Principal Greg Rolton, your teachers, and other staff, to nurture your mental health and wellbeing.
A recent snapshot survey by Beyond Blue revealed that teachers rate mental health issues among the top three health concerns for young Australians today – ahead of obesity and substance abuse.
This tells us that educators are very much alert and attuned to what is going on for their students.
Teachers often rely on instinct to pick up signs that a student may need extra support.
They may notice that a normally happy student has become withdrawn or is disengaged from school or is no longer enjoying the things they once loved.
They may notice that something is not right, but they don’t always know what to do and say.
Or what to do about it – where to go to connect you and your family to mental health support.
Be You will change that.
But I need to stress that we are not asking teachers to become counsellors.
Be You is designed to give busy educators what they need so they can focus on what they do best: teaching you.
It will give teachers the knowledge to know what to look out for and the confidence they need to intervene. It will help them know how to make inquiries, and where to go and what to do if a young person is in need.
Be You is designed to make it easier for educators – from those training to become a teacher to our most experienced principals, teachers and early learning staff – and it’s free.
Importantly, Be You will also help your teachers and school staff to look after their own mental health and wellbeing.
Because, believe it or not, teachers are people too!
They sometimes get stressed and they are no more immune to mental health issues than doctors or CEOs or firefighters or politicians or people who work in retail.
And at Beyond Blue we always say to people in charge: “you need to look after yourself too.”
In a crisis – in the words of the airlines – you need to put the oxygen mask on first before you can help others.
The great news for you is that Unley has already signed up to Be You.
And when a whole school signs up to Be You, the students and their parents will know that this is a place that is especially focused on the wellbeing of everyone, from morning drop-off to afternoon pick-up.
Families will be able to get to know Be You too: your parents and caregivers can visit the website, browse the content, or register and do some of the training themselves.
I am excited about what Be You can do to support teachers and students – and whole learning communities.
Because when we are mentally healthy we are better able to be our best selves.
Our ambition for Be You is for an Australia where every early learning service and school is a positive, inclusive and resilient community…where every child, young person, staff, parent or carer can achieve their best possible mental health.
It’s a big ambition.
And I am proud that my old High School is helping to achieve it.
I wish you all the very best for the new school year.
You are in good hands, and the most exciting times are ahead.