1 in 10 children aged 5-16 suffer from a diagnosable mental health disorder (1).
20% of primary school children suffer from a low sense of wellbeing (2).
The economic costs of mental illness in England have been estimated at £105.2 billion each year (3).
Children who are mentally healthy can resolve problems and setbacks and learn from them. Having recently undertaken some Mental Health First Aid training, here are my 5 suggestions for how you can help support your students to be mentally healthy:
1. There are lots of sources of support available
As a mental health First Aider, you’re not expected to take on the role of a therapist or a counsellor. But there are plenty of services you can signpost a student towards. Familiarise yourself with these, maybe even save a couple on your phone so you have them to hand should you need. MHFA has a comprehensive list available on their website.
2. Create a safe space for students who want to talk
A school day can be incredibly busy, but if you’re having an important conversation with a student, give them time to talk and don’t appear to be in a hurry. Be empathetic and positive – you’re not there to judge, simply to listen.
3. Take 10 Together at School
Take 10 minutes to start a conversation with a student about mental health. Simply ask a student how they are feeling, what support they need and how you can help them. Making students aware that you’re always willing to listen to them is a great way to help your students feel supported.
4. Be aware of risk factors
Whilst any young person could be susceptible to a mental health problem, it’s important to be aware of risk factors which could increase this likelihood. These include children in care, children experiencing family disruption or breakdown, a child strained by a long term physical illness or physical disability, or a child with history of abuse or neglect.
5. Engage the whole school community
Include parents and carers, pupils and staff in your approach to wellbeing and positive mental health. Develop a supportive school and classroom environment with policies which support students’ wellbeing and address staff stress levels.
The Youth MHFA in Schools programme aims to bring Mental Health First Aid skills to every state school in the country from 2017-2020 by training at least one person per state school.
Every secondary school in England is entitled to one free place on a Youth MHFA One Day course. Contact MHFA to find out more: www.mhfaengland.org/mhfa-centre/schools-programme/.
MHFA have some really helpful resources on their website, it’s a great place to start if you’re thinking about how you can support your students to be mentally healthy: www.mhfaengland.org/mhfa-centre/resources/for-schools/.
1 - Office for National Statistics, 2004
2 - Morrison-Gutman et al., 2008
3 - Centre for Mental Health, 2010