Purpose: The purpose of this paper is to explore relationships between students’ self-reported mental health and their perspectives about life at school in metropolitan Adelaide, South Australia. Design/methodology/approach: The Strengths and Difficulties Questionnaire (SDQ) and a purpose designed Living and Learning at School Questionnaire (LLSQ) were administered to 1,715 early adolescents in school Years 7-9. Correspondence analysis, which is a perceptual mapping technique available in SPSS, was used to examine relationships between students’ SDQ subscale scores (Emotional Symptoms, Hyperactivity, Conduct Problems, Pro-social Skills) and the LLSQ subscale scores (Motivation, Learning Strategies, Coping with Schoolwork, Bullying, Numbers of Friends, Safety at School and Teacher Intervention in Bullying Events). Findings: The correspondence analysis produced a two-dimensional visual display (a perceptual map) showing that students’ abnormal, borderline and normal SDQ subscale scores were closely related to their low, medium and high LLSQ subscale scores, respectively. A clear Dimension (factor) emerged, showing a progression from mental health difficulties to strengths, in close association with students’ reports about their school experiences. Research limitations/implications: Caution should be exercised when using the results to interpret events in other contexts. The limitations of self-report methods must be considered. Practical implications: The two-dimensional visual display provides a powerful tool for dissemination of the findings of this study about students’ perspectives to system-level and school-based personnel. This can inform the selection of intervention programs, such as strategies for self-regulation of emotions and learning behaviours, fostering friendships, and supporting academic achievement, that are related to positive mental health. Social implications: This paper can inform school-level policies and practices, such as those relating to professional development to support teachers’ and students’ capabilities (e.g. to manage and prevent bullying) and thus influence the nature of the school experiences that shape students’ perceptions. Originality/value: This paper adds students’ perspectives to the emerging field concerned with designing programs for mental health promotion in schools.