Why Mental Health issues are on the rise and what schools can do about it – PP154

Pivotal’s own Mike Armiger discusses the state of Mental Health in our children and young people. He suggests a range of ways in which schools can cope with the situation and best support those young people who are struggling with their own mental health.

Mike Armiger
Mike Armiger

Why are Mental Health issues on the rise in schools and other educational settings?

Mike feels it’s important to separate mental health from mental illnesses – they are very different things. Mental health is all about a child’s overall well-being.

Mental health isn’t a constant – it can fluctuate at different times of your life. Children today have such complex lives to navigate that anxiety can affect them, even from sources like political upheaval and the sometimes overwhelming pressures of social media. Often, people talk about resilience as if children can develop this in isolation but that’s not the case – it’s all to do with dependency:

You can only be resilient if you have a safe place and a safe adult to return to.

Other aspects are poverty, abuse and difficult family conditions but Mike also highlights the curriculum as a major cause of problems. He believes we have designed and developed the curriculum to create a massive amount of pressure on children to perform and hit targets. This means that a lot of the more creative subjects where children can find release have been marginalised and pushed out in favour of extra core subject time.

How can educational settings support young people with Mental Health issues?

Schools are being asked to plug a lot of gaps in mental health provision without the resources to do so. This is in the context of cuts in school funding and the first staff cuts are always in pastoral and support staff.

Counselling and talking therapy is extremely beneficial to children and young people with mental health issues – they need to be able to talk it through with an emotionally-able adult but there are also many things we can do to reduce stress levels in our bodies as well.

The main thing we can do is be able to support conversations.

Many schools are adopting very helpful practises to help in this area such as mindfulness. Mike mentions the Headspace app which allows users to take 10 minutes out and sport is also physically beneficial because of the way it affects the brain. The arts are also a great help.

However, Mike wants to stress that putting mental health in the agenda is perhaps even more important than all the above. A lot of schools and other settings are putting time and effort into training staff to recognise mental health issues in children and that’s great but it needs to be in combination with giving adults in schools the skills to have conversations confidently with those children. There is still a huge problem with the stigma attached to mental health so every school needs to make sure that assemblies, the PSHE curriculum and staff training are all really strong and consistent.

Another really important tool for schools is goal setting and Mile tells us about the power of getting young people who are experiencing difficulties themselves involved in supporting mental health programmes to help others in schools.

Most importantly, though, Mike points out that if we are committed to raising the profile of talking about mental health, we must have the systems in place to cope with the inevitable rise in children and young people coming forward for help.

What can teachers do when a child or young person is in crisis?

We need to provide young people who are in crisis with a safe place immediately.

When you are in a state of crisis in terms of your brain and your thoughts, what you really need is certainty.

  • Talk about the things the young person can do
  • Remind them of times in the past when they have been positive or interacted well with peers
  • Talk about the things you can do to reduce the stress
  • Talk and take the focus away fro the anxiety by providing practical tasks
  •  Think about ‘grounding’ – sometimes being physically on the ground will help
  • Model calm breathing with the young person – in through the nose and out through the mouth
  • Communicate the situation to all other members of staff who will come into contact with the young person
  • Chase up any existing referrals or arrange new referrals
  • Ensure that child is able to go to a safe environment when they leave the school or other setting

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