Amber Browne and Poppy Gibson
This blog post considers the current state of play in children’s mental health and wellbeing in our post-pandemic education system, setting out practical ways for educators to promote positive mental health in our classrooms. When defining mental health and well-being, where good mental health means that individuals can think, process emotions, and react positively to experiences (Mind, 2021), well-being represents how happy and satisfied individuals feel and how they can function both personally and socially as a result of contentment with life (New Economics Foundation, 2012).
Mental Health In Schools
A consideration of mental health and well-being within schools is now more important than ever, with evidence suggesting that since the pandemic, students are struggling more than ever before (Engage Education, 2021). Recent figures produced by Mind UK (2021) are eye-opening, 96% of young people surveyed within England said that struggles with mental health had affected their schoolwork and 68% of young people reported being absent from school due to their mental health. Furthermore, 1 in 5 children have a diagnosable emotional, behavioural, or mental health disorder, and 1 in 10 children have a mental health challenge which is severe enough to affect how they function at home, school or in the community (True Education, 2022).
Students may demonstrate some tell-tale behaviours as they struggle with overwhelming thoughts and emotions.
Some of these behaviours include;
– Low self esteem- including negative comments about themselves or their work
– Being irritable and angering easily- this may be over small things or things which wouldn’t usually make the child angry
– Crying and getting upset- if this is unusual for them
– The child may demonstrate a lack of sleep i.e falling asleep in class or looking tired
– Reckless behaviour that seems out of character
– ‘Jokes’ about or mentioning suicide or harmful behaviours
(Engage Education, 2021)
Ways to help Understand Mental-Health Needs Within The School
Teachers should ensure they have an understanding of the students who may be experiencing mental health difficulties within the school, whilst ensuring there is support in place for these children (True Education, 2022). Furthermore, it is important for teachers and leaders to recognise when a student may be struggling with their mental health so that they can intervene before it becomes more serious.
Mental Health Lead
An identified Senior Mental Health Lead within schools and colleges is being recommended by the Department for Education. This individual would receive senior lead training and gain the ability to take responsibility for setting up a whole school or college approach to mental health and well-being (Department of Education, 2022).
Mental Health Education
Although being a mental health expert is not a prerequisite for teaching, students are struggling more with their mental health now more than ever and the more teachers trained in mental health, the better. A teacher educated in mental health will be better able to talk to students who may be struggling and able to spot the signs (True Education, 2022).
Students, Parents and Carers
As well as teachers being educated on the signs and symptoms of deteriorating mental health, it is important for this to be extended to parents and children. You could organise a mental health evening for parents and mental health ‘check in’ posters around the school for students (True Education, 2022). As more people are educated in spotting the signs, there is a better chance that students will be able to receive help sooner.
Prevention is better than cure, as they say. Although the risk of mental health struggles can not be eradicated completely, consideration of healthy well-being practices within schools may help reduce this. Furthermore, these changes will help to create an open and well-being focused mentality for staff and students alike. Research demonstrates that a whole school approach is the most effective intervention to tackle mental health within schools.
Top five well-being initiatives for schools (adapted from Kilminster, 2022):
A well-being week is a perfect way to encourage healthy well-being practices and educate students to be aware of their own mental health. The Mental Health Foundation has a great range of resources for a well-being week.
Mental Health Literacy
The incorporation of mental health discussions within lessons can help to reduce stigma. Including teaching resources surrounding topics such as anxiety, stress and depression, can help to combat some misconceptions.
Mindfulness has been shown to have a positive effect on mental well-being such as reducing anxiety and depression, and even boosting memory. Try and incorporate 5 minutes of mindfulness and focused breathing into the school day.
Create a space in which students can feel safe to talk about their emotions and worries. Whether this be a library with dedicated members of staff or a well-being circle with other students. Use this idea to be creative and create a non-judgement culture in which students can feel free to discuss their big feelings.
Encourage students to write on a piece of paper what they are grateful for and place this in the gratitude jar. Gratitude boosts happiness and positive emotions.
Mental Health Foundation
Place 2 Be
Gov UK- Education Hub
Mentally Well Schools
Conclusion (and don’t forget the staff!)
This blog post has briefly shared some whole-school initiatives than can be used in our schools to promote dialogue around feelings and support well-being. We must remember that offering these spaces for staff, too, to share feelings and communicate with others is key to feeling supported, and these strategies should transcend spaces from the classroom to the staffroom. Why not have a ‘gratitude board’ in the staffroom for colleagues to share post-it notes with praise and comments about each other? Plan a well-being week that includes a range of staff opportunities to spend time with each other away from planning and the pressures of the curriculum. When our staff are feeling mentally healthy, it is easier to continue to support the students in our care.
Department for Education. (2022). Promoting and supporting mental health and wellbeing in schools and colleges. Available at: https://www.gov.uk/guidance/mental-health-and-wellbeing-support-in-schools-and-colleges. [Accessed July 5th 2021]
Engage Education. (2021). How To Spot Changes In Student Mental Health. Available at: https://engage-education.com/blog/how-to-spot-signs-of-student-mental-health/. [Accessed July 4th 2022]
Kilminster, M. (2022). The Ultimate Guide to Wellbeing Initiatives in Schools. Available At: https://arbor-education.com/blog-wellbeing-in-schools/ [Accessed July 6th 2022]
Mind (2021) How to improve your mental well-being. Mind.org.uk available at https://www.mind.org.uk/information-support/tips-for-everyday-living/well-being/well-being/ [Accessed 4th July 2022]
Mind UK. (2021). Young people failed by approach to mental health in secondary schools across England. Available at: https://www.mind.org.uk/news-campaigns/news/almost-two-thirds-of-young-people-receive-no-support-from-school-for-their-mental-health/#:~:text=Young%20people%20failed%20by%20approach%20to%20mental%20health%20in%20secondary%20schools%20across%20England&text=Too%20many%20young%20people%20in,ability%20to%20participate%20in%20education. [Accessed July 4th 2022]
New Economics Foundation (2012) Measuring Well-being: A guide for practitioners, London: New Economics Foundation. [Accessed 1/6/2022]
Teacher Toolkit. (2018). 5 Ways to Help Students With Mental Health Issues. Available At: https://www.teachertoolkit.co.uk/2018/02/24/student-mental-health/ [Accessed July 5th 2021]
True Education. (2022). How we can support mental health in schools. Available From: https://www.trueeducationpartnerships.com/schools/tips-for-supporting-mental-health-in-schools/. [Accessed July 24th 2022]
Amber Browne’s Bio:
Amber Browne is a MSc Psychology student and works for the NHS within the Mental Health sector. Amber’s primary research interests involve mental health and well-being, with a specific focus on trauma-informed care.