Becky is a Mental Health Speaker & Blogger, who has succeeded not despite of her illness, but because of it.
I think my perspective, which is grounded by personal experience, working within schools and the mental health sector, and research, lies somewhere in between.
I do see that more can be done within school contexts to contribute to students’ positive mental health. Schools act as a stable point in children’s lives, and are therefore well placed to have influence. At the same time, I do not believe this is an issue that can be solved solely within schools. Mental health, mental illness, and students’ lives in general, are incredibly complex. To say positive, or negative, mental health is caused, and therefore solved, by one thing, would be narrow.
I do believe that some changes do need to be made. Again, these suggestions are grounded by personal experience, working within schools and the mental health sector, and research.
Every student. Every teacher. Every parent. Everyone has mental health. Therefore, addressing mental health in schools doesn’t mean just focussing on students. Schools need to recognise this, and create resources and a culture to support these individuals too. Teachers will not be able to support students effectively if they are struggling themselves.
Mental health exists on a continuum from mentally healthy to mentally ill. Everyone is situated along that continuum. An individual’s position on the continuum changes, sometimes in relation to events in everyday life, but sometimes for no reason at all.
If a person is experiencing poor mental health, that does not necessarily mean they are experiencing a mental illness. Having periods of poor mental health is normal – it is not sustainable to be mentally healthy all of the time. People are not physically healthy all the time – people will inevitably get colds or a sickness bugs at some point during their life. Mental health is no different. Where poor mental health tips into mental illness is something I don’t think is well understood. There is need for increased education in this area.
Overall, I do believe positive changes are beginning to be made within schools. There is still a long way to go, but I think the fact that people are now more willing to have these conversations is a real positive. I think a key thing for schools to remember is that they just need to think small. They don’t need to change the whole curriculum to improve student mental health. Small things can make huge differences to students.