We all know the basics of maintaining good mental health. We know that we should be eating healthily, getting regular exercise and socialising with our friends and family however we are able to do so. The coronavirus pandemic has brought into sharp focus the importance of self-love and self-care for adults, but what about children’s mental wellbeing? How does school and its absence affect the wellbeing of the younger generations?
mentalhealth.org outlines evidence that it isn’t just screen time ratios, loneliness and lack of fresh air that are affecting the children in the last year. They write that “emerging evidence from the COVID-19 pandemic also suggests several other factors influencing the mental health and wellbeing of children and young people including: worries and concerns around their education (all ages), missing school (all ages), transitions and being away from school (primary school age), academic pressures (secondary school age), their career (young adults), and uncertainties about the future.” Stresses caused by missing school and the pressure of home learning has clearly had an impact on our children. It doesn’t matter how much fresh air and exercise they got during lockdown, missing their friends and feeling cut off from their community will have affected them in some way.
At The Mind Ed Trust, we’ve been working with schools in a number of ways, to help them develop and review the ways in which they look after their students’ mental health while at school. Last year, in partnership with Cambridge County Council, we launched the Blueprint for Schools initiative, which outlines eight key sections for growth and development to achieve a more mentally healthy environment for children and staff alike.
What is the Blueprint? The Blueprint is a map to making children’s mental health a priority in schools. The simple audit enables mental health champions to self-assess, and reflect on, the mental health provision evident in their school and to identify any areas of weakness. This means that where one school may excel at one area, it may need further thought and work to optimise another area of the school environment and procedures to promote overall wellbeing for its pupils.
How can it help? Every parent wants their child’s school to cater for their children’s education, physical safety and to promote their sense of identity and individuality, but how often is mental health (particularly in young people) simply not spoken of? At The Mind Ed Trust, we know that mental health is as important as physical health and that we should be creating a stable and non-judgmental environment in schools to encourage good mental wellbeing. We are also passionate about implementing appropriate systems of care in schools to ensure that every child feels heard and understood by their school. We want to encourage positive coping mechanisms in children and inspire them to talk about their own mental health which will help them assess and process their own emotions for the rest of their lives. The Blueprint identifies the areas of emotional nurture that each school is succeeding in and helps the school to assess where their focus areas for growth should be.
What are the eight sections? The Blueprint for Schools is designed to help schools improve the way they manage children’s mental health. The eight sections included in the blueprint are derived from the NCB’s whole school framework for emotional wellbeing and mental health (Weare, 2015) and the principles defined within with PHE’s whole school review tool to promote children and young people’s emotional health and wellbeing (PHE, 2015). We have streamlined the findings of these studies into eight sections or steps which are:
How has the pandemic impacted children’s mental health? The isolation and frustration that we, as adults have felt over the last year has also been a problem for many children. mentalhealth.org reports that “lack of contact with others, boredom, not being able to attend school, financial worries and general uncertainty about the future are key factors impacting mental health and wellbeing.” Us adults have lived many years in comparative ‘normality’ before we experienced this pandemic, and we know that things will return to some form of acceptable life before long. We must remember that for a child of ten years old, he has lived a tenth of his life in some form or other of lockdown and social restriction. This year has felt very long to many of us but for the younger ones in our society, it has been a significant percentage of their lives.
Children have been born, weaned and learned to walk without yet meeting their wider family and for those old enough to remember who they should be missing, they are feeling it keenly. Humans are social creatures, and we learn these social skills early on. Of course, the children will recover. Of course, they will learn to share and play again. Of course, they will catch up with the curriculum, but if we as educators could do more to support their emotional development as they process these big fears and worries, shouldn’t we? Of course, we should and so we will.
Do we really make a difference? The Mind Ed Trust funded this Blueprint for Schools because we believe in the benefits of talking about mental health from a young age. Normalising discussing feelings and emotional events is the first step to helping children to be able to assess and deal with their own emotions. Even without the pandemic causing more upset and worry in our youngsters, schools ought to be able to confidently support any mental health concern or emotional problem that a child may exhibit. We have funded the blueprint to promote awareness of child mental health and to prompt positive changes in schools which supports good mental wellbeing. Good emotional wellbeing helps lead to overall wellbeing.
Schools obviously agree that more can, and should, be done to support the mental health of their staff and students because our blueprint has been downloaded over 200 times thus far. 70 schools from across Cambridgeshire and Peterborough have completed the Blueprint in an effort to improve the support they offer for mental health amongst their students. Feedback from schools has also been positive regarding our eight sections and the practical help it provides to positively improve their faculty protocols.
The Mind Ed Trust funded this Blueprint for Schools so that it could be free to schools and institutions and we’re thrilled that it has helped so many schools in the Cambridgeshire and Peterborough area already.
To find out more about the blueprint for schools and our eight sections, click here. To see how The Mind Ed Trust is supporting mental health training, resilience, awareness and treatment programmes in schools, colleges and universities, take a look around our website.
Following many months of representation, research and long sessions in Committee rooms involving The MindEd Trust and several, marvellous sector advocates, the recent NHS Long Term Plan sets out a dramatic increase in mental health spending for young people, a reduction in waiting times, better community care, the ratification and funding of the national Zero Suicide Alliance, the redefinition of young people to be those aged up to 25 and crucially, the creation of support after suicide services in every part of the country.
It is a Plan and plans need implementing, but there is more in this document and vision regarding mental health and suicide prevention than there has ever been before. The photo below (of the National Suicide Prevention Group) shows some of the dedicated campaigners, thought leaders, academics, civil servants and politicians who have made this happen. It is not glamorous. It is hard work, emanating from bone-crushing tragedy. Nor is it by any means perfect. If realised however, many lives will be saved and much misery averted. In the memory of our dear son Edward Mallen, please share.
“The NHS is only really capable of dealing with people in crisis and this they are struggling with badly owing to burgeoning demand, cost constraints and under resourcing. In many Trusts, the barriers to entry are increasing, GP referrals are being refused and clinicians are being forced to raise the severity levels at which treatment can be offered in the face of static or reducing resources and rising demand. You have to be ever more ill to secure treatment which itself is beset by unacceptable waiting lists and limited care pathways under the IAPT/CAMHS programme. The situation is thus worsening rather than improving.
With people in crisis, not only are individuals impaired, but so too are their families and communities, sometimes for years. The road to recovery from crisis is long, very expensive and typically exhibits a high probability of recurrence. The political, economic and social cost is enormous, to say nothing of the loss to society inherent in multiple impaired life paths, loss of economic contribution and the increased burden on social support systems.
Following extensive research and consultation, The Trust believes that, in order to both eradicate stigma and develop effective in-school and community mental health programmes, every youth and young adult organisation needs to initiate a mindEducation “journey”. Stigma will only be destroyed via inclusive programmes which embrace all stakeholders, including not just young people, but teachers, parents, health professionals and managers. It is only by talking openly and widely about mental health that we will effect a long overdue paradigm shift in mental health perception and a change in social values.
Every school and youth organisation is different. With 75% of all mental illness pre-dating higher education and less than 10% of all current mental health funding directed to this demographic, there is a desperate need to improve mental health literacy and resilience in every educational establishment. However, there are no “quick fixes” and “one size fits all” solutions. In order to be effective, a mindEducation programme has to be multi-faceted and deeply embedded into the practice and consciousness of an organisation. At the same time, programmes have to be customised and focused on the specific needs, characteristics and resources of each participating organisation from primary education through to higher education and beyond.