Mental health in schools: a teacher's perspective
Linking mental health support to schools is crucial to the future of primary schools. Our staff have spent a long time researching and considering how to support our pupils' mental health and emotional wellbeing following an increase in anxiety, depression, self-harming and many other alarming symptoms in our children.
While we acknowledge we still have a LONG way to go, supporting the mental health of our pupils underpins everything. It's the foundation of learning and emotional wellbeing.
Growth mindset is a theory which suggests that you can improve intelligence, ability and performance and that these are not set in stone.
The introduction of growth mindset in our school was the kingpin in us being able to better support our children's mental health, but as a management team we decided it was crucial staff embraced it, too.
For the first half term, we launched growth mindset concepts with staff, giving them the understanding that failure was not a negative word and to believe in the power of 'yet' ("I can't...yet").
We all shared this with parents and pupils. This ensured that when we launched growth mindset for our pupils it was fully supported and embraced by all. 'Being brave', 'persistence' and 'warrior not worrier' became our school mantras along with using the word 'yet'.
This approach has seen huge success in the attitudes of our pupils in taking risks. But we didn't want to stop there.
So we launched workshops with parents. Being a parent is the hardest job I do. As parents we need to not only support our children in their mental wellbeing, but also make sure we are keeping a check on ours. Schools can embed and support parents in who they are, challenging loneliness and thoughts that do not support wellbeing.
Equipping children with strategies to overcome
It soon became apparent that while growth mindset was fundamental practice for our school's development it wasn't enough. Pupils, staff and parents needed more support in keeping minds healthy rather than just a bandage.
Over the past year I have seen children equipped with strategies to deal with the situations they faced or emotions they felt. I've had the pleasure of liaising with other primary schools, and in each one I've witnessed overwhelming devotion and support for their pupils.
I love the passion school staff have in supporting their children:
- how one-to-ones go home and worry about their children and express genuine pride in them when they overcome fears
- how teaching assistants sit holding back tears while they listen to how their children are feeling
- how teachers consider the children theirs, talk about them beaming with happiness and spend their money to make them happy.
How do we ensure pupils are ready to deal with problems?
I am proud to do what I do and to be part of the system.
But...I wonder whether that system is yet ready for the negative downturn mental health has taken in our schools.
Primary schools are dealing with issues that we once considered 'senior school problems'...but without the training.
So, in this chaotic world how do we ensure that our pupils are ready, not to be hidden from problems, but given the tools to 'deal' with them. Because that's what it comes down to.
Suicide at the age of nine is an alarm call to us all. 'We' must start preparing our pupils with the skills they need to find their comfortable self.
As a school we created a new system that develops children's resilience and teaches skills in how to handle situations they may encounter. We also gave our mental health team specific training as well as sessions with line managers to check in on their personal welfare. We created a wave approach so children did not attend endless 'nurture' sessions but rather sessions that supported their wellbeing and gave them strategies to develop.
We also supported our pupils by ensuring they knew their feelings of hate, anger, frustration, sadness, anxiety were all normal emotions. It's important to acknowledge these are emotions not to be ashamed of, but by acknowledging them they can start to control them.
We also make sure our pupils know that we feel all those emotions too and that we can overcome. Supporting pupils and ensuring we are supporting the staff have become priorities over all areas of learning.
'Kindness cannot harm'
The conclusion my own children and the children that I have had the pleasure of working with have taught me is that kindness cannot harm. In fact it can only make things better.
We continually encourage a culture of performing acts of kindness among staff and pupils. Kindness can be taught, it can also be expected and, to be honest, our pupils are the best teachers of this.
These acts of kindness are infectious. We celebrate them because they can give hope to all of us.
Sometimes I look at the future with trepidation. To quell those fears, schools must collaborate with mental health charities and professionals who can support them in developing our future adults.
To that end we require governmental policy that prioritises emotional wellbeing as a foundation to learning. That is essential.
We need your help
At the Mental Health Foundation, we're working towards a world with good mental helath for all, so getting mental health in schools is a key focus for us. If children are able to thrive in childhood, they are far less likely to experience mental helath problems when they're older. But we can't do what we do without your help. Please consider a donation today.