Schools hit up happiness with Aussie Optimism
Between 2015 and 2016, 3400 Western Australian students were explicitly taught valuable skills to support their mental health via Curtin’s evidence-based Aussie Optimism Program.
The students learnt skills to develop resilience, prevent anxiety and depression and effectively navigate a complicated world characterised by academic demands, complex social landscapes and peer pressure.
Aussie Optimism was founded by Associate Professor Clare Roberts, and is currently overseen by Dr Rosanna Rooney, Associate Professor, School of Psychology and Speech Pathology, and Dr Robert Kane, Senior Lecturer, School of Psychology and Speech Pathology. The team, who has worked together for more than 14 years, includes Natalie Baughman, Research Coordinator, School of Psychology and Speech Pathology, Dr Shari Hassan, Research Coordinator, School of Psychology and Speech Pathology, Ruth Drake-Brockman, Dr Monique Nesa, Sessional Academic, School of Psychology and Speech Pathology and Nethalie Coswatte, Research Officer, School of Psychology and Speech Pathology.
Aussie Optimism is based on American Psychologist, Martin Seligman’s, work on optimism, and informed by the latest research on ways to promote mental health resilience, and prevent anxiety and depression from occurring in childhood and adolescence. The program assists participants in meeting the challenges and stresses of life such as peer pressure, stressful life events, the move to high school and the changes associated with adolescence.
The Aussie Optimism Program comprises five separate universal programs for students aged six to fifteen years, all of which can also be used as selective or indicated programs. The programs can be run as part of the school’s health curriculum during a school term, at one hour per week, and have been designed to fit within the latest Australian National Curriculum for health and physical education. Aussie Optimism also offers a program to parents and families of young adolescents transitioning to high school. The Aussie Optimism team is developing a research program in the Wheatbelt to assess the efficacy of a whole-of-school approach in a rural setting.
The evidence base for Aussie Optimism is substantive, and includes reliable differences in depression and anxiety symptoms, improvements in pro-social behaviour, reduction in drug and alcohol use, improvements in self-worth, improved optimism and improvements in suicidality.
Aussie Optimism utilises a Train-the-Trainer model, and has trained approximately 60 trainers and more than 2800 school staff over the years. The Aussie Optimism team has a partnership with YouthCare to train chaplains in the full suite of Aussie Optimism Programs, which ensures a whole-of-school, developmentally appropriate, approach to supporting students’ positive mental health. The team is also developing a strategy to provide mental health screening in schools as part of the implementation of the Aussie Optimism Program.