You may well have seen that mental health and well being amongst children has been very much in the news recently. Nationally, over 50%of mental illnesses start before the age of 14, with 1 in 10 children and young people affected by a diagnosed mental health disorder. This has increased dramatically in recent years. Schools are on the front line when it comes to supporting children and young people’s mental well being. Staff working in schools are increasingly having to respond to early signs of mental health difficulties in children and young people.
Mental health difficulties can take different forms but the commonest two are:
While many children and young people worry about school or home circumstances from time to time, around 1 in 10 experience anxiety severe enough to make it hard for them to get on with the things they want to do in life. This may signal an anxiety disorder. Children and young people may feel anxious in particular situations, such as speaking in class or socialising with peers, and may want to avoid these scenarios. They may find themselves worrying a lot, feeling unable to stop this. They may also experience physical and visible symptoms, such as panic attacks.
This can mean an absence of feelings, irritability, lack of pleasure in life, and/or a lack of motivation. Most people will experience this at times.
However, low mood means that people feel this way persistently. Doctors define low mood as feeling this way for over two weeks.
It is not always easy to spot low mood. Signs include changes in behaviour, relationships with friends and school staff, becoming more withdrawn and fluctuating attendance. Low mood may be related to challenging home circumstances, bullying or difficult peer relationships.
At Woodcote, like all other schools, we are aware of how mental health can impact on learning and enjoyment of school. We have appointed a “Mental Health Champion” at Woodcote, Ms Levett, who is a very experienced teacher and a Lead Practitioner with a keen interest in improving our students’ mental health and wellbeing. She has undergone training in “Mental Health First Aid” and the school leader “Mental Health Champions” course, to help and encourage all our teaching and support staff be able to spot the early signs of poor mental health emerging, enabling us to put in early intervention strategies. One such example is “Mentalization”.
Mentalization means trying to see things from somebody else’s point of view. The key question to ask is ‘what is it like to be you?’ Mentalization is not a specialist skill and research suggest that being able to see things from a student’s perspective is a key principle of good teaching. Mentalization is particularly important when you are concerned that a child or young person is not achieving as well as they might or is not enjoying school.
Mental wellbeing is not simply the absence of mental illness; it is a broader indicator of social, emotional and physical wellness. It is influenced by a range of factors, including a child or young person’s family, their community and school environment, their physical health and their social and emotional skills. Mental wellbeing can be defined as feeling good, feeling that life is going well and feeling able to get on with daily life.
Since Ms Levett has been in post as Mental Health Champion, two other Heads of Year, Ms Bird and Mr Brack, have undergone training; this will be cascaded down to other colleagues through INSET in the New Year.
We are only too aware that for some students it is only the intervention of highly qualified CAMHS practitioners that will help. However, we see prevention as better than cure, and we have high hopes that this initiative will limit the number of serious mental health cases needing more intensive intervention in the future.
Thanks to @ANFCCF for some of the information in this article.