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Student wellbeing

There are some people that say school staff have too much on as it is, so should not be expected to add student wellbeing to their to-do list. In contrast, there are others who say schools and teachers play a pivotal role in young people’s lives, and have the responsibility of preventing mental health issues from arising or deteriorating. 


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.

Everyone has mental health

Just like everybody has physical health. Mental health is not mental illness. Everyone has mental health, not everyone has a mental illness.

 

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. 

The budget

A lot of the budget for mental health is allocated to crisis care. As a doctor once said to me “money is being put into putting the fire out, not preventing it from starting in the first place.” There needs to be increased understanding and acceptance that if more effort is put on education and prevention, less people will end up in need of crisis support. Schools can play a role in this. For example, just creating a whole school environment that promotes talking and help-seeking, can normalise issues and encourage students to help-seek before they reach crisis.

The learning

There is need for greater mental health, and mental illness, education within schools. This does not necessarily mean putting lessons into the already packed curriculum to teach these. They can be incorporated in tutor time, assemblies, or lessons already in the curriculum (e.g. PSHE or PE).

Educating teachers

Teachers need to get further education on the topic. Schools could invite external speakers in to deliver CPD, or individual teachers could take it upon themselves to look at resources online. Some great sources of information are: YoungMinds, Mind, and ChildLine. All teachers should be educated to the level that they can identify signs of deteriorating mental health in themselves and students, know how to approach this conversation, and know where to signpost people in need of additional support. 

Developing people

Schools should not focus solely on churning out students with a good number of qualifications at a good grade. Schools should really look at developing a whole individual. At the end of the day, it is known that students who have better wellbeing are more likely to be able to produce results. Therefore, schools may find that results actually increase as a bi-product of investing more time or money into mental health. 

 

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.

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