Posted on: November 13, 2020
Alison Waterhouse, Educational Psychotherapist and author of Wellbeing Champions: A Complete Toolkit for Schools
Mental Health in Schools
Mental health and mental ill health are two very different aspects of the same coin. Being and staying mentally healthy and having a diagnosed mental health illness need distinct supports, approaches and strategies to meet the differing needs they present. Mental health difficulties range from short spells of depression or anxiety to severe, persistent conditions that have the potential to isolate, disrupt and frighten both those who are experiencing them and family and friends who come into contact with them.
In the UK six children and young people (CYP) within every classroom have a diagnosable mental health problem and, sadly, most of them will not seek help for many years. The research is now helping us to understand that the earlier preventative support is available to CYP the more beneficial it is to their positive wellbeing. Unfortunately, many CYP struggle early on to engage with adult-led support and this means that when they do engage their challenges may be more severe and difficult to overcome or find strategies to manage.
Creating Wellbeing Champions
Creating Wellbeing Champions is one way to help create a mentally healthy school by both promoting positive mental health and addressing mental ill health. It involves putting peer-to peer support at the heart of your approach and helps you to find out what is needed specifically within the educational environment you are part of. By getting a group of people together who think this is an important area they can address the needs they have identified in an effective way throughout the school.
Wellbeing Champions develop into very different projects within schools and might include:
- Promoting special days or events that focus on wellbeing. This could include Mental Health Days, Anti-Bullying Week, Neurodiverse Awareness week or a range of other special focus days.
Supporting the development of positive wellbeing of specific groups within the school community. This may include:
- CYP with parents with MH difficulties
- CYP who offend or join gangs
- CYP who are in care
- CYP with a parent in prison
- CYP who are carers at home for siblings or a parent
- CYP who have experienced or are experiencing domestic violence
- CYP who are members of the LGBTQ community or have questions about gender identity
- Creating a Wellbeing part of the school newsletter that focusses on ways to support wellbeing.
- Supporting CYP who come into the school during transition phases.
- Creating displays that show the many different aspects of work the school is undertaking to support the wellbeing of CYP, staff and parents.
- Supporting teachers in delivering special assemblies focussing on wellbeing.
- Offering a drop-in facility for other CYP.
- Supporting a buddy scheme in school, focussing on CYP who need a helping hand to manage learning, friendships or transitions.
- Helping develop the school environment by creating displays, special areas, sensory gardens, healthy eating gardens or calm places within the school.
- Supporting conflict resolution work or playground monitors.
- Showing visitors around the school, helping them understand how the school supports the needs of the CYP who attend.
- Enabling CYP to find a suitable way to have their views and ideas heard and thought about.
- Helping staff share what mental health is and how to support the development of positive mental health and wellbeing.
A mentally healthy school is one that adopts a whole-school approach to mental health and wellbeing. It is a school that helps children flourish, learn and succeed by providing opportunities for them, and the adults around them, to develop the strengths and coping skills that underpin resilience. A mentally healthy school sees positive mental health and wellbeing as fundamental to its values, mission and culture. It is a school where child, staff and parent/carer mental health and wellbeing is seen as everybody’s business.
Wellbeing Champions by Alison Waterhouse
This book shows how to create a mentally healthy school by empowering young people to champion emotional wellbeing and positive mental health.
It provides a practical toolkit to recruit and train Wellbeing Champions so that they can help to create an ethos and culture of positive mental health that ensures early access to the support and help needed.
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