Mental health among children and young people(CYP)has seen a sharp rise over recent years. According to national survey data, as highlighted in a recent article by the ACAMH (association for child and adolescent mental health),1 in 8 children and young people has a clinically diagnosable mental health disorder, although only a quarter of these CYP will access specialist mental health services. The COVID-19 pandemic has had a further detrimental impact on mental health,of which we are yet to understand the full effect.
Schools are expected to provide increasing emotional and social support to young people with aspects of PSHE (Personal, Social, Health and Economic education) becoming mandatory from September 2020. It is good practice for schools to include mental health within their PSHE curriculum,and this raises the question -how can we help raise mental health awareness in schools and provide preventative work that helps children and young people to express themselves?
Schools’ are often a good place for recognising the early warning signs of deteriorating mental health,as staffhave regular access to the children and young people they support. They can also identify CYP who may be struggling or who are displaying changes in behaviour or presentation.
Within the Caritas Schools’ Service, supporting CYP with their mental healthis something that we are experienced in and we often support school staff and communities with increasing their knowledge and awareness. As part of World Mental Health day we have put together some ideas for raising awareness of mental health inschools-you can also contact someone within our service for further support or guidance if needed.
To raise awareness in your school you could:
Utilise PSHE sessions
There are a number of resources available to make PSHE lessons easier for teachers,school staff or your Caritas worker to deliver, especially when it comes to boosting mental health awareness.
Anna Freud is one of the leading organisations for researching, teaching and supporting children and families with their mental health in the UK. Foryears5 and 6 they have produced a child friendly lesson or assembly plan that looks at talking about the difference between every day small feelings and overwhelming big feelings called “Talking Mental Health”. Follow the link for more information https://www.annafreud.org/schools-and-colleges/resources/talking-mental-health-animation-teacher-toolkit/
Anna Freud are also part of the mentally healthy schools initiative and there are age appropriate lesson plans around mental health for all key stages on the PSHE association website.
Develop informative displays andhave openconversations
Having open conversations about feelings and self-care is very important in school. Giving children the vocabulary to talk about difficult feelings can enable them to express themselves and for any problems to be identified. Some schools encourage sharing worries by having classroom worry boxes or worry monsters, this can be incorporated in to reading therapeutic books about big feelings and intertwined with other aspects of the curriculum such as art or literacy.
It is also helpful to have some visual displays around school that remind children of where they can go for help should they need to talk about feelings. Childline offer a number of promotional posters that schools can display,and in some areas they willalso come to give talks to year groups and full assemblies about their service.
In high schools,look in to local services that may be available such as Kooth or a local mental health drop in service. In the Caritas Schools’ Service wehave promotional posters of the staff member posted in yourschool,with details ofthetypes of support and how CYP canask for the service. Ensuring these informative posters are visible helps to raise awareness of support.
It is also possible to produce displays around mental health warning signs that talk about the types of changesin behaviour CYP may notice if experiencing a problem. Many people have experienced difficulties and it can be helpful to highlight this to reduce stigma. You could have a display of high profile celebrities who havefaced challenges or continue to experience difficulties with their mental health, talking about how it has impacted on them and how they overcome or cope with it each day.
Talk to parents
Part of raising awareness for our children and young people in schools is ensuring that parents are aware of their CYP mental health needs andwhere they can access support. Having open conversations about any needs identified by school staff is vitalfor familiesto be able to offer ongoing support at home with a holistic approach to the CYP care.
Some schools offer informative sessions for parents where they can come in to school to learn more about different topics,such as mental health, online safety and supporting their child with difficult times such as exam stress.
It can also be useful to include key dates for awareness raisers, such as World Mental Health day, in newsletters,on school websites and on social media. Attaching linksfor more information and support can enable families to research this in more detail in their own time.
Recognise what can impacton mental health and support healthy mindsets
There are a number of contributors that impact on mental health and it is important that we raise awareness ofthis both with our parents and children and young people in schools.
Sleep is key to having a positive mindset and being able to cope with difficult feelings. The NHS recommends that children aged three to six have between 10-12 hours; seven to twelve years olds have between 10-11 hours; and teenagers around 9hours. CYP who consistently don’t get enough sleep may struggle with physical health problems and they’re more likely to be obese and experience feelings of low mood and exhaustion.
Another contributor is social media and gaming, limiting screentime and ensuring that CYP are accessing age appropriate material is vital to promoting positive wellbeing. If you have any concerns about a child ensure that you have shared this with your Designated Safeguarding Lead in school so that appropriate steps can be taken to ensure CYP are meeting their full potential.
There are a range of other factors that can also impact on mental health and it is important to think about how lifestyle or recent events in a person’s life may be impacting on them.
We can all support positive mental health through gratitude and self-care and it is important that before we support others we are in the right headspace ourselves. Take some time to think about your own mental health and how it impacts on you. There is a helpline for school staff 08000 562 561, where trained counsellors are there to listen to you without judgement, and to help you find a way forward whatever your worries or concerns, this service is available 24/7.
When raising awareness of mental health in schools it is important to be aware of help and support in your area for all people, as we all live with mental health and is important that caregivers also look after their own feelings, thinking and mood.
For children and young people who are having difficulties, remember that there is a range of support available in your local area. Working with CYP and their families is key to improving mental health. For schools that access the Caritas Schools’ Service ask your worker for more information about what we can do to help children and families through individual or groupwork, but also how we can support your teachers and the school environment to be more mental health aware