There’s a looming mental health crisis. Covid-19 has created a wave of emotional problems for young people around the world. Outside of the home, schools are the first to see the impact of these issues and many teachers and staff don’t feel prepared. Research by the Chartered College of Teaching says that only 5% of teachers expressed confidence in being able to support an influx of pupils struggling with mental health related issues when schools started back.
World Mental Health Day falls on the 10th October every year. It’s aim is to help spread awareness around the world to help us all educate ourselves and each other so we can better support one another. Charities such as ‘Mental Health Foundation’ and ‘Mind’ offer useful resources and information on how to get involved next year.
“over two thirds of young people (68%) said their mental health got worse during lockdown” (Mind.org)
What do mental health issues look like?
Common types of mental health conditions include:
Anxiety – Anxiety is a feeling of unease, worry or fear which, when persistent and impacting on daily life, may be a sign of an anxiety disorder. Generalised Anxiety Disorder is one common type of anxiety disorder.
Depression – Depression is a common mental health problem that causes people to experience low mood, loss of interest or pleasure in anything, feelings of guilt or low self-worth, disturbed sleep or appetite, low energy, and poor concentration.
Eating Disorders – Behavioral eating disorders can occur as a result of mental health problems – this can include eating too little or too much or becoming fixated with one’s weight or shape.
Why is mental health important in schools?
Now more than ever it’s important that schools help to spread awareness of mental health and wellbeing. This can make way for easier conversations, spotting those who are in need and helping pupils to support each other through these difficult times. Teaching and school staff spend the most time with a child in a professional setting, so it’s important that they can identify any behavioural changes that might be the first sign of problems. Social media, gender and sexual identity and modern technology are factors that are contributing to poor mental health in children and young people.
5 tips to promote positive mental health awareness in your school
- Feedback Boxes – Allow anonymous sharing of any problems pupils might have. Offer feedback-style boxes around your school. This will help discover trends and invite pupils to pass on issues that they are struggling to tell to their teacher or parent face-to-face. Teachers can then discuss any issues that have arisen from the notes. But remember, this has to be done in a subtle and non-judgemental way, as not to single out anyone. Some of the issues can be discussed in ‘circle time’ where a safe space is created for the pupils. This should be coupled with other strategies to ensure extreme distress can be identified.
- Circle Time – Promote positive relationships with practical activities in ‘circle time’. This can help pupils develop personal positivity and an understanding of the responsibility of others. Circle time was developed by Jenny Mosley to promote respect for the individual through practical activities that can promote feelings of wellbeing. This could form part of your PSHE classes. The teacher needs to facilitate the discussions and promote the activities in a way that will allow pupils to feel safe and valued. Sit in a circle and allow pupils to exchange feelings and ideas. This will hopefully bring up issues important to the pupils which they will feel able to share.
Talk about scenarios such as “You see a classmate who is upset because of …, what do you do?”. This encourages pupils to think about others feelings and what they can do to help. Another circle time activity is asking pupils to share a positive adjective that describes them. We also like the idea of allies groups, which create safe spaces for students to support each other and engage with the school about their needs. Loughborough University has a great page on Diversity Allies band organisations such as The Kite Trust can often provide training.
- Work with Parents – It’s important that schools work with parents to build on supporting the strategies in school. Helping build on the trust and safe space created by teaching staff. Contact parents and discuss any behavioural problems that may not have been noticed at home. Creating a positive meeting is key and taking care not to make the parent feel they are being patronised for what might have influenced their child. Meet after school or in parents’ evenings.
- PSHE – Mental health and emotional wellbeing should form part of your PSHE classes. The content and direction of the classes should be tailored to the age and needs of the pupils. Delivering the right messages can help individuals find the confidence and understanding to seek help when needed. This will lead to discussions and questions relating to mental health and remove the stigma behind talking about their feelings.
It’s important that PSHE focuses on mental health at all age levels. The earlier the better. Focus on teaching that will promote self-awareness. A good place to start is through emotional literacy using story books. This can help develop social relationships and to understand different points of view. You can find useful lesson guides and content on the PSHE Association website.
- School Behaviour Policy – Setting out a whole-school behaviour policy will provide a guide for staff and pupils. Helping create a positive learning environment where safety and inclusivity are top priority. Outline policies that will ensure a pupil’s treatment will be fair and consistent when dealing with issues big or small.Policies can be: agreed class or school rules, rewards and sanctions, or PHSE class-based interventions such as ‘circle time’. A positive classroom ethos is founded on good relationships with emphatic teaching staff and fellow pupils. Only then can the pupil’s behaviour be understood.
Read ‘ Children’s Mental Health and Well-Being in Primary Schools ’ for further insights into a whole-school approach for your primary school.
Customised pupil and student planners can provide a tool to support the mental health strategies of your school. Include your specific school behavioural policies, and information pages on mental health issues to support your PSHE classes. Add pages that have vital information on how pupils can seek help. You can also build mindfulness strategies into the daily and weekly planning tools. We’ve made it easier, and created a number of pages on mental health that you can use or adapt for your planner
To find out how planners can aid your mental health strategies, request your free sample pack to get started.