6-12 February 2023 marks the UK’s annual Children’s Mental Health Week, an initiative launched by Place2Be, an organisation founded in 1994 that is now a recognised national charity. The yearly event, which is now in its 9th year, was created to highlight the importance of promoting positive mental health amongst children and young people.
Juniper Education believes that no child or young person should have to face mental health challenges alone, which is why we are proud to be recognising Children’s Mental Health Week 2023.
We also think it’s important to raise awareness of this issue affecting our school children, and after consulting with our team of education experts, have suggested five ways how teachers can promote positive mental health and well-being across primary and secondary school education.
Before we get to what school leaders can do to help, let’s first address some of the possible reasons why so many school children are being adversely affected by poor mental health:
The overwhelming pressure of exams, especially at GCSE level, can have a significant negative effect on a students’ mental well-being. Students can become mentally fatigued and can suffer from information overload, which is unsurprising given the sheer number of facts and figures they need to remember for each exam. The pressure to succeed can also lead to poor mental well-being and sadly cause exam related stress and anxiety.
iPads, laptops, mobile phones, PlayStation, Xbox and Nintendo Switch, an ever-growing list of some of the most popular devices on the market right now.
Young people now spend much more time indoors online and gaming rather than outside. A game of football in the park is being replaced by a game of FIFA. Physical activity is linked to positive emotional well-being whereas over stimulus, as a result of too much technology, has been proven to have an adverse effect on the emotions of children.
Social media platforms are part of modern-day life, however, certain sites such as Instagram and TikTok can create unrealistic ideals around lifestyle and appearance, which can lead teens feeling inadequate and lowers self-esteem. It can also lead to less ‘real world’ social interactions with friends and family and can lead to online bullying often referred to as ‘trolling’. Children are also faced with greater risks online, including exposure to upsetting content that could affect their mental health.
An Uncertain World
Following the effects of the global pandemic in 2020, children may now see the world as a turbulent and sometimes scary place. Covid-19 completely changed young people’s lives and their daily routine. Fears about the safety of friends and family as well as their own safety, the energy crisis leading to money worries amongst family members, and the impacts of the war in Ukraine; it’s no wonder our youngsters may be feeling more anxious than normal, or even develop agoraphobia or PTSD.
Students who identify as being LGBTQ+ often find it difficult to talk to their friends and family. This could lead to feelings of loneliness, isolation, and worry as they try to navigate their feelings.
Changes in Family Circumstances
Statistically 50% of marriages in the UK end in divorce, so although schools are well equipped to support children through family changes, children often struggle with family separations.
How Can Schools Help?
Teachers and school staff have a responsibility to promote positive mental health in schools. Often, even small changes can go a long way in helping a child feel better:
1. Encourage Social Time
Schedule in 30 minutes or an hour every week where students can be social and focus on something other than the curriculum. Encourage them to chat with their peers and complete a task together, like a difficult problem or a challenge.
2. Run Lunchtime Clubs
Give students the opportunity to take their minds off things at lunch by running lunchtime clubs that are fun and inclusive. These clubs could be for any activity – arts and crafts, science, book clubs or even Lego club etc. The sense of community will help students feel included and will relieve the pressure of class work, even for a short while.
3. Have an Open-Door Policy
It’s essential that students know they can come and talk to you about any issues or concerns they have. Communicate this to your students so they know you’re always there to listen. You could even appoint a designated teacher for each year group who can support any students struggling. This person should ideally have training in mental health first aid for children and know how to help.
4. Make Mental Health Known
Sadly, mental health is still seen as a bit of a taboo subject and something that sufferers feel embarrassed to talk about. Many also feel judged if they explain their problems. As a result, you should make mental health a focus in your school.
You could also invite charities, such as Mind, into school to give talks about their work and address the topic of mental health.
5. Take Part in Children’s Mental Health Week
To really put mental health and pupil wellbeing at the heart of your school, why not take part in or support Children’s Mental Health Week. Visit their website and get access to a whole host of free downloadable resources that support both primary and secondary school education and include class activities, assembly guides, games and fundraising initiatives.