A recent poll by the National Association of Head Teachers (NAHT) has shown that twice as many schools in England, 66%, are having to commission professional support and in-school counselling compared to 2016. Despite mental health being a high priority for the UK government, schools face growing numbers of pupils with mental health issues while support services are increasingly hard to procure. In this post, we’ll look at ways that schools can help tackle mental health in-house.
A whole-school approach
One of the first ways a school can move forward is to develop a school-wide approach to positive mental health. This includes the mental health of all the community: pupils, staff and parents. Mental wellbeing needs to be embedded not just in the curriculum, but in the entire life of the school, including in classroom practice, rewards and sanctions, play/free-time management and in enabling a work-life balance for all. At the same time, schools should try to encourage behaviours and attitudes that improve wellbeing.
Designated mental health coordinator
Creating a designated role for mental health gives the issue the important status it needs at management level and means that a whole-school approach can be better coordinated. The person in charge will have the authority to implement best practice and procedure as well as to monitor progress and evaluate impact. It also means systems can be centralised, reducing the chance of invisible cases.
A designated coordinator can also be the face of mental wellbeing within the school, being the first point of call, while also supporting staff, parents and pupils. They can also be the representative of the school when liaising with support services or colleagues from other schools.
Mental health training
67% of schools now undertake mental health training for their staff and this is vital to increase awareness of the various types of disorder that pupils may be affected by. It helps teachers to identify signs of mental illness so that those with potential disorders are given speedier help, and it enables teachers to improve classroom practice so that general wellbeing is enhanced and that those with disorders can cope better during the school day.
Training, of course, can be implemented in several ways. Schools can invite professionals in to address the entire staff or individual teachers can attend courses out of school and then feedback to the rest of the staff at a later date. Local clusters may also have support groups who deliver training in your area.
One key area of training is how to deal with a child who is having a mental health crisis. The NAHT survey reported that only 44% of headteachers felt confident their school could deal with such a situation.
The first step to getting help is telling someone about your mental wellbeing. In schools, there are three hurdles which need addressing to enable this to happen. First of all, children need the language skills to enable them to talk about their problems. They need to know how to express their feelings so that they can tell their friends or their teachers what is happening to them. If a child lacks the ability to articulate how they feel, they may be unable to seek help.
Secondly, schools need to do everything they can to remove the stigma of mental health. This might not be such a major issue for younger children, but as they get older and more self-conscious, fear of other people finding out can make issues worse and prevent help being sought. This is equally true of staff who may also fear that their jobs are at risk if they come forward.
Finally, people need someone to tell. Although the mental health coordinator is perhaps the first port of call for serious concerns, all members of the community should be encouraged to support others, whether it is a friend, a pupil or a colleague.
Fun, outdoor exercise
The school playground can play an important role in improving mental wellbeing. Simply getting outside into the fresh air and away from the classroom is a natural mood-lifter in itself. However, if free time is made fun, it can help with issues of anxiety and depression and counteract the stress which classwork puts children under. That, of course, means equipping your playground with apparatus that will engage pupils in fun activities, whether that’s playing football, roleplay, making mud pies or digging up a sandpit .
Even more beneficial for mental wellbeing is when children are provided with opportunities to engage in physical activity. Sports markings, climbing frames, outdoor gyms, etc. all help children to take part in moderate or strenuous activities which have been proven to help prevent serious mental health issues developing and which make it easier for those with existing conditions to cope.
With 12.8% of pupils suffering from a mental health condition and a lack of external help, all schools are under increasing pressure to cope. Hopefully, the ideas mentioned in this post will help your school improve provision for your pupils.
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