Victorian schools, leaders in building children’s self-esteem through innovation like the Safe Schools program, may now introduce a mindfulness meditation program.
The growth in popularity of mindfulness in Victoria owes much to Lucy Richards, a finalist for Young Australian of the Year 2016 and former managing director of Smiling Mind, an organisation dedicated to maximising youths’ social and emotional skills and bringing balance to their lives.
Smiling Mind, which distributes an app that has recorded more than one million downloads, has been trialling the program in 13 government schools on behalf of the Victorian Government.
Lucy met co-founders Jane Martino and James Tutton a few years ago and, impressed with the not-for-profit’s mission to create “happier, healthier and more compassionate young people”, became Smiling Mind’s first employee.
“I was so blown away with how amazing they were and the way they operate and how hard they work,” said Lucy.
“I loved the idea of working with the education system, but not necessarily in it, so I could create change from the outside.”
Developed by psychologists to provide free life tools for mindfulness, the web and mobile app has programs for adults as well as children as young as seven.
Smiling Mind has shown significant results in improving workers’ wellbeing in the corporate space.
“It has a profound effect because we’re so used to living such a busy, crazy life that stopping is quite weird,” Lucy told The Newsroom.
“A very key part of mindfulness is not judging yourself or not striving to be anywhere else other than the present moment.”
The Victorian government funded the schools trial to examine the impact of mindfulness. It measured stress and wellbeing levels, academic outcomes and student engagement in the school environment. The results of the trial will be released later this year.
The organisation’s vision is for mindfulness meditation to be on the Australian Curriculum by 2020.
Lucy said she was honoured to have been nominated for Young Australian of the Year in 2016 by a Smiling Mind colleague, Georgina Reed.
“We spent a lot of time together and a lot of hard work in the trenches getting stuff done,” Lucy said.
Georgina told The Newsroom she saw Lucy as a genuine, caring woman deserving of the award.
“She moves at an incredible pace and achieves amazing feats, both within her professional and personal life,” said Georgina. “She is talented in so many ways and I count myself very lucky for having had the privilege to work and learn from her, and to call her my friend.”
Grateful for the recognition, Lucy said her nomination, relating to mental health and technology, was a good indicator of Australians’ priorities and a statement on where Australia is at as a nation.
“It was pretty exciting to think that the message is getting out there, people are understanding the power of online mental health programs and the power of meditation,” she said.
Lucy said she tries to meditate every day, but compared it to eating healthily or exercising – always setting out with the best intentions but not always following through. – Matthew Male
Photo by Bec Hudson Photography, supplied by Lucy Richards.