Mental Health Awareness Week

We are increasingly hearing about the barriers to mental wellbeing faced by young people, as recent NHS Scotland figures show that over 230 children under the age of 12 have been admitted to hospital due to self-harm over the past four years.

According to the Mental Health Foundation, 10 per cent of young people (aged 5-16 years old) have a diagnosable mental illness, but fewer than 25 per cent of children receive appropriate treatment. It’s time to address this, at home and at school.

Increased competition for top university places and career opportunities mean that preparation for many young people start at an even earlier age, which can make the demands of the classroom and exam season particularly overwhelming.

The inescapable influence of social media is also highly likely to be a factor, with constant exposure to unrealistic images of others’ lives contributing to feelings of inadequacy.

Faced with these pressures, it’s hardly surprising that mental health problems have increased amongst the young. As educators, we have a role to play in arming our students with the tools to overcome these challenges. There are many ways that we can promote wellbeing amongst young people at school.

Teacher Training

Although we should not be encouraging teachers to attempt to diagnose mental health issues, they can be helped to spot warning signs that may indicate a student going through a crisis. A sudden change in behaviour, withdrawal or lack of engagement can signify a wellbeing concern. By working with the young people and their parents we can empower our teachers to intervene at an early stage and catch crises before they escalate.

Ending the Taboo

Schools can also adopt a progressive mindset to mental health issues by discussing them openly, instead of confining them to the counsellor’s office. That way, we can demonstrate to our student that mental health issues are common place, and that importantly, they can be managed by taking certain measures. This way, mental health problems don’t become terrifying – rather they become unpleasant but manageable fact of life.

Teaching Resilience

Another way to promote wellbeing amongst young people is to equip them with the tools necessary to build resilience. Coping methods, resources and advice are all useful armour in the fight against stress, anxiety and depression. By helping students to help themselves, we can expect to see happier young people who are much better equipped to face their challenges head on.

George Heriot’s School unofficial motto is ‘work hard, be kind, be happy‘ and, I believe, this helps to remind our students to look after one another and themselves. This is a mindset we are keen to encourage from an early age.

Yoga, mindfulness, teambuilding, and philosophy make up the programme of wellbeing and resilience activities we introduce during nursery and primary school years. While older students benefit from initiatives designed to promote selfcare and emotional health, such as our pupil-led ‘Head Gardeners’ Programme and ‘Love your Mind’.

We also run support groups to help students manage stress and to cope with loss and bereavement.

By designing systems to provide appropriate and targeted support to all students, schools can frame the conversation to be about the significance of wellbeing to its own end. The impact on students can be truly transformational and can have an effect not only throughout their school career, but into their adulthood.

Mrs Lesley Franklin, Principal.

Article take from the Scotsman: