Young people face many challenges that can affect their mental health. From exam stress to cyberbullying – sometimes they may come to you for crucial advice and guidance across a variety of issues. So, let’s explore how you can help the children around you improve their mental health, whilst discussing some key symptoms and signs to look out for.
Read on to see some easy ways you can all make the most out of this Mental Health Week this year…
Whether you’re a parent or teaching primary school, secondary school or sixth form students, you know that children can face a multitude of issues as they move through the school system – and childhood. There are many ups and downs when it comes to growing up, many of them out of their control. The question is, how do you differentiate between the normal pains and struggles of growing up and any potential mental health disorders?
There are a few key signs and symptoms that may indicate something deeper might be going on, such as:
- Difficulty concentrating
- Withdrawing from friendship groups
- Increased anger and irritability
- Signs of self-harm
- Mood swings
- Diet changes
What to do if you think a child is struggling with poor mental health
Your school should have a policy in place that you can refer to if you think a child is in danger or going through a crisis, so speak to your headteacher for guidance. In the meantime, there are a few things you can do to support and help encourage them to stay engaged with lessons and activities.
For example, if they are sitting alone in class, try moving them to sit with students you know will involve them and keep them distracted. At break time, you could encourage them to get moving or spend time with their friends. You can also let them know that you are happy to talk at any point and will provide them with guidance and a sympathetic ear.
If you become seriously concerned with a child’s welfare, you should report back to your headteacher and use the school guidance to accelerate support.
Add mental health to your lesson plans
Unfortunately, it’s been noted by the NHS and many in the education industry that mental health conditions are common in children aged 5-16, and there is still a lot of stigma surrounding mental health. In particular, it’s been suggested that students who are open about their struggles might feel at risk of being bullied for it. But that’s the exact reason we should be open about it – to inform and educate all pupils on this subject to help break down stigmas, bust myths and let them know that it’s OK to not be OK.
Not only can education help to change the narrative about mental health, but it can also teach children to recognise the signs and could even potentially prevent students from spiralling.
There are plenty of resources to help you plan lessons and provide activities to help students learn about mental wellbeing. Place2Be is one of the UK’s leading mental health charities, and they provide a wealth of free resources for schools, alongside teacher training, support for under 18s, and advice for parents and carers.
Create a safe space
For pupils to feel as though they are safe to reach out, you need to create an environment in which they feel secure. Let your students know that you and others are available to discuss any issues they might be having and that you can signpost them towards getting extra support.
If a student you suspect of having difficulties approaches you, don’t force them to talk, simply let them know that you are here to listen without judgement to whatever they have (or don’t have) to say.
Organise extra support
Unless you are trained in mental health skills, you won’t be able to offer immediate solutions or anything other than generalised support. However, don’t under-estimate the power of being there for your student. Let them know you can guide them to getting that extra help.
You can point your students towards:
- Staff with mental health training or a mental health nurse
- Online resources
- Your student support team
- Seeking help from external mental health professionals
- Family support
If you’re not sure where to direct your pupil for extra help, speak to your headteacher, or senior mental health lead, regarding the school’s mental wellbeing policies for further guidance.
Ask for mental health training
If you’re passionate about mental health and want to offer students enhanced support and solutions, why not ask the school to see if they would be willing to provide extra training? The School Mental Health Specialist programme offers the most comprehensive development opportunities for those serious about offering in-school mental health support. Some mental health charities offer free training.
Ask your headteacher about any preferred training providers and investigate what they offer. To help, the UK Department for Education is currently offering grants to support senior mental health leadership training to eligible state-funded schools and colleges in England.
When is Mental Health Awareness Week 2022?
Hosted by the Mental Health Foundation, Mental Health Awareness Week takes place between the 9th and the 15th of May this year. The theme of the week is loneliness and seeks to shine a light on how it impacts mental and physical wellbeing. The organisation also provides plenty of support for schools.
Now you know how to talk to students about mental health, identify problems early on and provide extra support this Mental Health Week, so let’s go be supportive!
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