Helping students to understand mental health
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.
In 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.
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 share 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.