Last academic year working with Hays Education, I was privileged to deliver a number of Breakfast Seminars or Twilight Meetings to Leaders in Education on ‘Mental Health Awareness’ in schools. In total, we delivered over 12 events to average audiences of 50-100 people. Those who attended had the influence and authority back in schools to initiate and drive change. These conversations served to not only raise the profile of mental health in schools, but also culminated in us thinking about the assumptions we make and how we can do things differently.
The following is a summary of the 5 main key learning points we discussed across all the meetings in the Hays Education Mental Health Awareness Roadshow and how it relates to World Mental Health Day 2018. It should be noted the key points from these meetings contributed to a government consultation submission during the same period.
#1 Everyone has mental health and just like physical health we ALL need to invest time in maintaining it.
“Mental health is defined as a state of well-being in which every individual realizes his or her own potential, can cope with the normal stresses of life, can work productively and fruitfully, and is able to make a contribution to her or his community.” – World Health Organisation, (August 2014)
“Health is a state of complete physical, mental and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity.”
Therefore, mental illness is a condition which causes serious disorder in a person’s behaviour or thinking.
In line with this, we considered three elements:
- What constitutes the ‘normal stresses of life’?
- When discussing resilience in schools, do we focus on self-esteem and confidence, missing out the elements of developing self-efficacy and social problem solvers?
- Are we mindful of the language we use? Do we use language associated with mental illness to exaggerate feelings (e.g. I’m feeling depressed …) or do we sometimes misuse language in jest to describe behaviours (e.g. The OCD side of me …)
#2 Thriving is more desirable than striving! This was unanimous.
Reflection: What does thriving for pupils and staff look like in your setting? What are the barriers to thriving or the stiflers that promote a striving culture?
#3 What to do. Those who suffer from mental illness need three core things:
- Respect – this is about an open culture of acceptance
- Support – access to the right support, in the right way and at the right time
- A plan – to help manage the wobbly bits of life (every day stresses that are over powering). A named person to talk to, someone to call, when things go pear-shaped etc. This helps promote safe-independence.
#4 Are mental health problems on the rise for children and young people? This is something we debated extensively and if you really think about it there are arguments on both sides. We explored what key community leaders had said and why. We concluded by sharing five top tips:
- It is important for ALL children and young to have a named person they trust and can talk to.
- Schools need to provide information on the promotion of good mental health for ALL.
- Creative outlet is necessary, and schools can think about how they use the curriculum / targeted extra activities to promote this.
- Pupils need access to information on mental illness, to reduce the stigma.
- Finally, it is imperative, those suffering from mental illness have expedient access to therapies, if they need it.
#5 There is wealth of resources out there and schools need to build a bank of information for staff and pupils to access.
The Local Offer in your area is a good place to start.
A toolkit for schools and colleges by the Anna Freud National Centre for Children and Families
Social Emotional Mental Health by SEND Review Portal
In conclusion, mental health is an everyday issue that we need to discuss more. There are no easy answers, but together we can begin to shift the tide for everyone! Remember, everyone has mental health and that’s the message behind this year’s #HandsUp4HealthyMinds World Mental Health Day.
It’s time for everyone to act!
Further reading and resources: