Helping students to understand mental health

World Mental Health Day green ribbon Mental Health can affect anyone at any time or any age, and our younger members of society are particularly vulnerable. Teachers need to be aware of the issues around the subject and look out for warning signs that could help support children. The 10th October is a great day for this as it is World Mental Health Day, where people all over the world take time to show their support for improving mental health and to look after their own wellbeing.

With more than eight out of 10 teachers saying mental health among pupils in England has deteriorated in the past two years, and that the matter is at a 'crisis point', today gives schools and colleges the chance to take time out of normal lessons to discuss young people's mental health issues through activities, workshops or set lessons. 

The Hollins school in Accrington, Lancashire have done this by holding an event for their year 8 students called 'Know Stigma'. Through the day the students will be completing a range of activities to help them become more aware of mental health. 

Children and young people today can feel like there is a lot of pressure on them to look a particular way, spending multiple hours a day on social media, viewing images of celebrities that depict the 'perfect body', which can make them self-conscious of their own appearance. 

Woman taking part in mental health activityIn addition, bullying on social media and the accessibility of the internet 24 hours a day has a detrimental effect on pupils' wellbeing.

All of this impacts on their mental health and in turn can lead to low confidence and affect school life.

Mental health in schools is becoming a bigger issue daily and now doesn't just fall to parents to deal with. Teachers also have a responsibility for their students' welfare, looking out for the warning signs so that early intervention can be taken when needed and be available for students to talk to. 

Organising activities and workshops can help to make students feel more comfortable, helping to bridge the student/teacher divide by opening conversations not normally spoken about during a normal school day. This can then give students the confidence to come to them in the future if ever the need be.

 

Deputy Head Pastoral, Mrs Jade McLellan from St Dunstan's College answered a few of our questions on the importance of World Mental Health Day and how schools should have procedures in place to deal with any issues:

Why is World Mental Health Day so important?

We want to show our support for World Mental Health Day as it is important to remove stigma from talking about emotional wellbeing and mental health. For too long, talking about mental health has been seen as embarrassing or a sign of weakness. We want talking about mental health to be as everyday as talking about physical health.

How does mental health affect the younger generation?

Mental health and emotional issues often develop during adolescence, with 50% of mental ill health starting before the age of 15 and 75% by the age of 18. This can be due to a variety of factors, some of which are beyond our control, such as the crucial changes in the brain that occur at this age.  Online pressures, changes in families or friendship groups and busy schedules can also all impact a pupil’s wellbeing to a greater or lesser degree.

How important is it for schools to have procedures in place to help students?  It is critical that schools have procedures in place to support pupils with their emotional wellbeing and also mental ill health, should it arise. Increased awareness of mental health across the UK has led to an increase in pupils coming forward to talk about their mental health concerns. This is something we welcome but of course we need to have the right mechanisms in place to support our pupils. We are fortunate at St Dunstan’s to have our own Wellness Centre, where we can look after our pupils’ physical and mental health, with a nurse, chaplain and counsellor all working on site.

How is St Dunstan’s marking World Mental Health Day?

Pupil voice has been a key driver in our plans to mark World Mental Health Day. We take part in Young Minds’ HelloYellow Day annually, which sees the community wearing bright yellow clothing to raise funds for Young Minds, who advocate for child and adolescent mental health support. Students have also produced resources to give tips to the College community on how to improve your emotional wellbeing, whether that be taking a walk outdoors or sitting down and cuddling a beloved pet.

 

What other schools have to say on Mental health and wellbeing in education

 

Rose Hardy, Headmistress at Habs Girls’ School, says:

"Making mental health accessible in school is important not just for staff and children, but for the local community too; but it is also about empowering pastoral excellence. The impact and reality of mental illness means schools can no longer separate the pastoral from the academic. Never has it been more vital for schools to raise the bar in terms of the pastoral care they provide. Early identification is also key to delivering the right support, so we have to open up the channels of communication between teacher and child too and this means nurturing an environment that champions openness and the ability to just talk.

"Children today are faced with multiple, often complex, challenges exacerbated by our fast-paced world and schools have a significant role to play in the safeguarding and mental wellbeing of their pupils."

Ben Evans, Headmaster at Edge Grove School says: 

"There is still too much stigma associated with mental health – despite the fact that the numbers suffering are rising. As schools, we have a duty to abandon those out of date stigmas and make mental health support more accessible for all. We cannot provide the best support while we still live in a world where teachers are afraid to raise the issue of child mental health in their schools. If we scrap the stigma and make mental illness something common, accessible and normal, our children will feel more at ease to talk about their worries, fears and problems and more importantly, they will feel more comfortable asking their teachers for help. 

 "However, the ball is in our court as a school in terms of bringing mental health out into the open. We are actively creating visible reminders around our school that display positive mental health messages and give clear guidance on the steps that children can take if they are upset, worried or aren’t coping. This kind of openness is crucial, as are regular assemblies that cover relevant topics and bringing in external speakers i.e. people who may have suffered with their own mental health and can young girl discussing mental health issue with parent and teachershare relevant experiences that the children may identify with. The key to all of this is making a connection with children and actively showing them that the support is out there for them if they need it. Children don’t have to feel alone or lost, they shouldn’t feel embarrassed or isolated if they are struggling – we are all human and highlighting the support that is available will go some way to helping them to understand that their school is there to help."

 

Teachers and parents working together to tackle mental health

Teachers and schools as a whole need to look out for their students and their wellbeing, working with parents to ensure that the daily challenges of life do not cause mental health problems. Letting children know that it is okay to ‘not be okay' and giving them the tools to reach out for help if it is needed.

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