The increased focus on wellbeing and mental health over the last few years has turned many heads towards schools. But research has found numerous gaps when observing how young people’s wellbeing has been incorporated into the education system.
Worryingly, more than 1 in 10 young people believe that they have no one to talk to, or wouldn't talk to anyone in school if they feel worried or sad (The Mental Health Foundation, 2018). This is particularly concerning given the devastating impact of the pandemic on young people’s mental health: the number of children referred to children and young people’s mental health services increased by a staggering 134% in 2021 (Royal College of Psychiatrists, 2021).
But there are steps we can take as educators to support our students’ wellbeing. Below, we discuss how early intervention tools, including the development of soft skills, can prevent young people’s mental health from deteriorating, and how you can introduce these tools into your school.
Why is young people’s wellbeing so important?
Evidence shows that “good mental health in the first few years of life is associated with better long-term mental, physical, and social outcomes'' (University of Birmingham, 2019). Not only does good mental wellbeing have physical benefits, but it has social benefits such as educational attainment, increased confidence, and more positive relationships.
However, many people do not start prioritising their wellbeing until they are actively struggling. Worryingly, this is especially true in young people, and many young people may not have the understanding or self-awareness to identify mental health issues in themselves.
Young people go through massive growth periods physically, socially, and emotionally during their years in school, and so it’s important for them to feel supported during these periods of change and growth. Therefore, as educators, it is part of our role to help educate children and identify early warning signs of poor mental wellbeing.
Some examples of social and environmental factors that may influence a young person’s wellbeing are:
family and home stressors (i.e., arguing among family members, illness of a family member)
socioeconomic status (i.e., low income, unsafe or unhealthy living conditions)
access to healthcare (i.e., availability of adequate medical services for physical and mental health)
toxic relationships (i.e., verbally or physically abusive partner, unhealthy and draining friendships)
availability to support systems (i.e., access to openly discuss issues with a counsellor, parents, friend, sibling).
Recognising early signs of poor mental wellbeing
Early intervention is defined as “identifying and providing effective early support to children and young people who are at risk of poor outcomes” (Early Intervention Foundation, 2022). Effective early intervention can prevent mental health problems from occurring or getting worse, and can help young people to develop the skills needed for adult life (Early Intervention Foundation, 2022).
Research also shows that, by improving young people’s mental health, early intervention programmes can make a profound difference to young people’s life chances and enable them to discover their full potential (Place2Be, 2019).
But how do you as an educator know when it’s time to step in?
Take a look below at the diagram of the ‘Mental Health Continuum’.
The mental health continuum is a model that represents the non-binary state of mental health and the different levels of support needed along the scale. This model can be helpful to show to young people, as it shows clear signs of where their mental health might lie.
In the diagram above, we’ve added some recommended actions that young people can take to improve and support their mental health at different stages of the continuum, based on our learnings from the young people on our programmes and combined with wider research.
How can we incorporate early intervention in schools?
Research has found that teaching young people about ‘soft’ skills, such as confidence and resilience, can act as a transformational early intervention tool, enabling them to improve their life chances and discover their full potential. For example, research by the University of Birmingham found that children and adults with high levels of resilience are “half as likely to have a diagnosable mental health condition” (University of Birmingham, 2018).
But worryingly, 44% of teenagers don’t think they’re given enough opportunities to develop soft skills, while 91% of teachers believe schools should be doing more to help students to develop soft skills (DofE Award, 2019; The Prince’s Trust, 2017).
A few ways you can incorporate early intervention practices into your school and enable your students to develop these vital skills include:
Provide a safe and supportive environment where children are always able to talk about any struggles they are experiencing. Our FREE children’s mental health resources can help you in starting these conversations with your students.
Conduct regular presentations from school counsellors or PHSE leads to educate children on mental health. If you’re looking for inspiration, Place2Be have produced virtual assemblies discussing mental health for both primary and secondary students.
Ensure staff are trained to recognise the early signs of poor mental health. Place2Be also offer a free mental health training programme to UK qualified teachers.
How can Yes Futures' personal development programmes act as an early intervention tool?
At Yes Futures, our volunteer Coaches empower young people to develop four essential skills: confidence, resilience, self-awareness and communication. These skills have a proven impact on students’ wellbeing, motivation and aspirations. In 2021, 95% of students on our programmes improved in at least one of our four skills, while 76% of our students became more motivated to achieve at school.
Students on our programmes may initially show signs of the ‘Mild Distress’ stage of the Mental Health Continuum, such as nervousness or shyness, fluctuating confidence, self-doubts and procrastination. But by empowering students to believe in themselves and recognise their potential, students finish the programme showing signs of ‘Mental Wellbeing’: for example, self-confidence, self-acceptance, increased productivity and performance at school, and a continued effort on personal growth.
We use a coaching model in our programmes as coaching has been proven to be an effective early intervention tool to prevent more serious mental health issues, by empowering individuals to develop the resilience needed to recover and grow from challenging situations (BetterUp, 2021). Importantly, we equip young people with the skills to self-coach, enabling them to prioritise their personal development and wellbeing into adulthood.
To find out more about how our programmes can support your students’ wellbeing, please visit our School Programmes page.