Student Lives At Risk Over School Mental Health Policies 

teen walking alone

While schools across Australia have unfilled vacancies for mental health practitioners, thousands of tertiary-qualified counsellors are available but are being shut out of the system.  

The peak body representing Australia’s counsellors and psychotherapists wants to know why. 

CEO of the Australian Counselling Association (ACA) Jodie McKenzie has revealed that all state education departments except one only accept limited professions like social workers and psychologists to fill the role of a school-based mental health practitioner, despite the fact that counsellors are qualified and experienced.  

She said there were simply not enough people in those categories to meet the needs of students, and “as counsellors, we know that sadly, when people cannot get the help they need, the consequences can be tragic.” 

Recently there has been a breakthrough of sorts with Victoria now recognising “counsellors of a prescribed class,” a move hailed by Ms McKenzie. 

“These are counsellors who are registered, experienced and are more than capable to meet student needs,” she explained.  

However she says one state is not enough, and has called on other states to follow Victoria’s lead. 

“New South Wales and Queensland both claim to be placing a mental health practitioner in every school in 2024 but I can’t see how this will be achieved while their current eligibility excludes counsellors.” 

Ms McKenzie said issues in the schoolyard include bullying, relationships, family issues, conflict, anxiety, stress, self-harm and suicide – all issues that counsellors deal with on a daily basis, “and when required we refer the student to more specialist support.”  

Pointing to the current cost of living crisis, she explained, “many parents currently can’t afford to pay for a therapist, so being able to access a mental health practitioner for free counselling at school will mean more students receiving support.” 

She said it’s time to be blunt. “Students who can’t access the right help are at real risk; their lives are at risk. 

“This doesn’t have to be the case because there are qualified counsellors available. 

“Victoria has acted, now other states must act.” 

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