He plays tough on the field but Parramatta Eels forward David Gower has a softer side and is launching a groundbreaking program to improve the mental wellbeing of school students.
The Forge Wellbeing program gets students to answer eight simple questions about how they are feeling with the results instantly fed back to teachers who are alerted if the kids are suffering low self-esteem or social problems.
By using a computer and emojis for younger children the program helps gauge the emotional state of students who can’t articulate their problems as well as those who don’t wish to speak about how they are feeling.
Questions are based on positive psychology research to give an insight into the individual wellbeing of the student.
It is the first time schools have had a way to gauge the wellbeing of their students, the information is provided in graph form and the survey can be done regularly to track changes and identify new problems.“One school we spoke to very early on in the piece said that I can tell you what a kid got in maths exam 10 years ago but I can’t tell you how they’re going (mentally), there really is a gap in the market around wellbeing data,” Gower told News Corp.
Gower’s business partner Jason Stewart lost two of his workmates to suicide and friends of his sons also took their own lives in high school.
“This has come from a place of passion. I read those stories about people taking their lives in the papers and they make me mad,” Mr Stewart said.
Stewart said school principals who signed on to the program have told him students were self -harming and even younger children were writing about horrific things they wanted to do.
“It’s terrifying” he said.
By intervening early the program aims to fix social and emotional problems early and help stop students dropping out of school.
Teachers are provided with a practical steps they can get their students to take to improve in each of the eight wellbeing measures.
For example keeping a gratitude diary recording something they are grateful for each day to make them more optimistic, or mindfulness exercises.
David Gower of the Eels is tackled during an NRL match between the Penrith Panthers and the Parramatta Eels. Picture: AAP
The program is being used by 10,000 students in 32 schools across the country and Gower said it was helping give a voice to students who were reluctant to speak up about their mental stress.
Australian Primary Principals Association president Malcolm Elliott is a strong backer of the program.
“Let’s say a red flag emerges in the data, then immediate intervention from a professional school psychologist, perhaps a social worker or an external psychological support organisation can be arranged,” Mr Elliott said.
As many as one in seven children aged four to 17 have mental illness and the Productivity Commission report found by year nine students with a mental illness can be up to five years behind than students who don’t, Gower said.
Gower completed a Certificate IV in Elite Athlete Wellbeing Management and currently works at Parramatta Eel’s wellbeing and education department focusing on the under 20s team and junior representative programs.
“I’m a father of three girls that’s why I want something better. I want them to be asked how they are going at school and be comfortable asking for help,” he said.
If you need help please contact Lifeline on 131114 or Beyond Blue on 1300 22 4636