Mental health wealth

Learn: St Kieran's students taking part in the Healthier Hearts and Lighter Minds program.



AGL and Mindfull Aus have teamed up to help children manage their emotions, launching the Heathier Hearts and Lighter Minds program across the Latrobe Valley, starting with St Kieran’s Catholic Primary School in Moe.

Mindful Aus founder, Matt Runnalls has run the program since 2017.

The most important part of early learning is to make it fun, engaging and relatable, and that’s what Mindfull Aus does said Mr Runnalls, aiming for students to come in and out of the program not even aware they had a deep conversation about mental health.

Healthier Hearts and Lighter Minds is a proactive approach to learning about the beauty of the brain and the understanding of the strength we are to ourselves when we tap into what exists within.

“We’ve partnered up now with AGL to be able to provide us with financial support to be able to bring it into more schools in Gippsland, which is a real beautiful thing,” Mr Runnalls said.

“We feel very grateful for the support of AGL … they’ve been a long-standing supporter of our work here in Gippsland, and we wouldn’t be able to do the work that we do without people like that and organisations that stand side-by-side to make a difference.”

Mindfull Aus works with children as young as four in kindergartens, primary schools and school holiday programs to facilitate fun, energetic and relatable content in ways that can help shift the narrative about talking about emotions and feelings.

The key outcomes are to identify and control emotions using techniques, and express feelings with trusted people.

“We give the kids strategies around mindfulness and meditation techniques, and breathe work techniques to help slow the world down,” Mr Runnalls added.

In the program, students learn about the six core emotions in the human psyche, which are fear, anger, joy, disgust, sadness and surprise – having science-based colours associated with each emotion.

Having now delivered the program to more than 10,000 young students, Mindfull Aus also run parent- and teacher-educator workshops for a holistic approach to mental care.

“It’s a whole community approach that allows not only for our kids to feel; more confidence in their ability to deal with and combat life’s challenges and emotions, but it also gives the parent the tools, skills and strategies to articulate and navigate those difficult conversations with their kids too, in an easily relatable and fun way,” Mr Runnnalls said.

Students also learn the three main parts of the brain: the Amygdala, Hippocampus and prefrontal cortex, but for kids, they’ll understand these parts as the judge, the librarian and the superhero.

All primary school can sign up for the Healthier Hearts and Lighter Minds Program.

“We’re appealing to as many schools as possible at the moment, and we know funding gets in the way of that, so with the help of AGL, we’ll be able to support more schools to tap into the resources that we do have,” Mr Runnalls said.

“Healthier hearts and lighter mind’s main focus is to help give children in early learning the ability to identify and control their environments and express their emotions in positive ways.”

Mr Runnalls said a preventative approach to mental health is “critical,” to the health system.

“There’s no point in putting an ambulance at the bottom of the cliff; let’s make sure that we’re putting education at the top,” he said.

With regional communities’ mental health often left behind in the health care systems, Mr Runnalls said the resources in our community are already overwhelmed, and education can be the key to easing those pressures.

“It’s really important that we provide people with the education because if they do have the education, then we don’t need to handball people into professional support,” he said.

AGL’s general manager, Christo van Niekerk was proud to endorse the Healthier Hearts and Lighter Minds program, having had worked closely with Mindfull Aus previously.

“It’s a great program. We’ve been working with Matt for over a couple of years now; he’s done a lot of work for us at AGL Loy Yang,” Mr van Nierkerk said.

Mr van Nierkerk said the program goes a long way in supporting school-age kids to manage life’s challenges.

With the Latrobe Valley undergoing significant changes in terms of industry closures and with an uncertain future ahead, Mr van Niekerk said the Mindfull Aus program would help the Valley’s future generations.

“(The program) is about looking after our future, it’s about looking after the kids to make sure they stay in the Latrobe Valley, and also they participate in the future of the Latrobe Valley,” he said.

AGL wants to have an active role in the transformative era of the Latrobe Valley.

“We definitely [want an active role] … The local community is what serves us, and it has served us over many decades, so we need to invest back into the local community,” Mr van Nierkerk said.

St Kieran’s Catholic Primary School principal Peter McKenna, spoke of how beneficial the program was for all students.

“It was just so beneficial for all ages, Foundation to Grade 6, just because it gets them expressing their emotions so they know how their feeling and they know what they can do to make them feel better,” he said.

“I think lots of children spent too long on technology and just didn’t engage with children and adults (during COVID-19) this program certainly gets them talking about their feelings and also interacting with others.”

Mia Brincat from Grade 6 was happy to tell the Express how much she loved participating in the Healthier Hearts and Lighter Minds program.

“It was so fun, it was all about learning the different parts of the brain and how to control our emotions when we are overheated and get the better of us,” she said.

Mia said she learnt to “take deep breaths, take a break, calm down and walk away if we needed to” while enjoying the fun-filled mental health education experience.

Mighty minds: St Kieran’s Primary School Moe principal Peter McKenna, Mindfull Aus chief executive Matt Runnalls and AGL general manager Christo Van Niekerk with students from the school. Photographs Simon Carter