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Tackling mental ill-health and substance use: starting with prevention

17 April 2020
Optimising mental health and drug education in schools
A new module has been added to the Climate Schools online prevention program the success of the Climate Schools Combined study showing the benefits of combining mental health and drug education in the classroom.

Globally, a substantial burden of disease is attributed to substance use, depression, and anxiety. Universal school-based programs, like the Climate Schools initiative, can address this burden by providing high quality, evidence-based prevention education.

Climate Schools is a school-based prevention initiative developed by researchers at the Matilda Centre in collaboration with students, teachers and parents. It initially consisted of four substance use modules – Alcohol, Alcohol & Cannabis, Psychostimulants & Cannabis, Ecstasy & Emerging Drugs – which have been rigorously tested in six randomised controlled trials. Most recently, a Mental Health module was also developed and evaluated within the Climate Schools Combined (CSC) trial.

Final results of the CSC trial – in which students received the Alcohol module, the Alcohol and Cannabis module plus the new Mental Health module – have recently been published in the Lancet Digital Health. This cluster randomised controlled trial, conducted with 6,386 secondary school students from 71 schools across NSW, QLD and WA, found that a combination of substance use and mental health education significantly increased young people’s knowledge about substance use and mental health, resulted in smaller increases in their odds of drinking and heavy drinking, and slowed down the trajectory of anxiety symptoms, when compared to students in the control condition for up to 30 months following the intervention.

Participants and key findings

Map of number of schools and students participating in the study and follow up results

Interestingly, results pointed to the effectiveness of combining the Alcohol and Alcohol and Cannabis modules with the Mental Health module, compared to school-based health education as usual or delivering the Mental Health module in isolation.

In addition, long-term effects of the CSC combined preventative approach will be examined in a longitudinal study currently underway, tracking these same participants into their early 20s, a time when mental health and substance use disorder reach their peak. An economic evaluation of the intervention is also planned. For further details of this follow-up study you can read the protocol.

Off the back of these promising findings, in January this year the Mental Health module was added to the Climate Schools package, available for use in schools Australia-wide. To increase ease of implementation for teachers, a curriculum consultant was engaged to review the scope and sequence for each of the modules against the new NSW Personal Development, Health & Physical Education syllabus. There is an ongoing project to do the same for the WA and VIC Health & Physical Education curriculums.

Behind the scenes, our team of researchers are working with designers, web developers, education experts and young people on a refresh of the site and materials as part of an increased focus on implementation. There are currently over 18,000 students registered on the Climate Schools website, with schools in every state and territory of Australia using the program.

We hope to see numbers continue to grow throughout 2020, improving the health and wellbeing of the next generation of Australia’s young people.


Climate Schools COVID-19 response

climate school cartoon characters
As a show of support for the challenges that school staff, parents and young people are facing during the COVID-19 pandemic, the Matilda Centre is offering schools in Australia free access to the Climate Schools program which includes a new module on mental health.
Register your school

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