This week is Children’s Mental Health week in the UK. This year the theme of the week is Growing Together. The aim is to encourage children (and adults) to grow together, and to be a part of the growth journey of those around them.
Our children are entering their third year since the start of the global pandemic. For the younger children, it is a sad and staggering fact that a considerable portion, and in some cases the majority of their life, has been spent in lockdown, or living in bubbles and under all manner of restrictions. They haven’t had the care-free, playful childhoods that we did; nor are they able to put their recent experience into a longer term perspective, as we can.
So it’s hardly surprising that children’s mental health is at an all-time low. In the light of what has happened, it is easy and understandable for kids to have fallen seriously behind in their mental, social and emotional development and to get caught up in the trials and tribulations of life. Hardly surprising if they’re disheartened by the current state of the world, and feeling bound by limitations outside their control.
According to data from UK children’s mental health charity Place2Be, 1 in 6 children and young people have a diagnosable mental health problem which may continue into adulthood, and 50% of those with lifetime mental health problems first experience symptoms by the age of 14.
Helping the younger generation recover their mental, social and emotional health is a very major challenge for them and for us. It’s simply not going to be enough to resume “business as usual”. Too much damage has been done to too many people.
We’re going to need a whole new approach – one that puts mental, social and emotional development and wellbeing first. More exam and “results-oriented” teaching is not going to cut it and may make things worse. We need to adapt and move beyond our usual levels of comfort – after all this is how real growth takes place.
There is so much more that we can and must do together to support our children:
Include daily activities that promote emotional wellbeing
Daily activities can include stories which connect on an emotional level, or group music making, singing, game playing and team or group-based physical activities. The important thing is that they’re group activities, requiring interaction and response between the participants. And the more interaction the better, as nothing has more impact on overall levels of social and emotional development and wellbeing. Try and make sure that at least 30 minutes a day is dedicated to some group activity of this sort – and if you can manage two or three short sessions, so much the better!
Mental health and wellbeing is no longer the taboo topic that it once was. Celebrities and public figures are speaking publicly about their mental health challenges, making it easier for individuals to speak up and ask for help. Schools need to create an open line of communication between pupils and school heads, teachers and administrators. It is ok to not be ok, and it is ok to ask for help. So keep talking, keep asking questions and keep checking in with those around you.
Here are some fabulous growth stories from celebrities. These stories can be used in class, or at home with your child, to help start a conversation about growth and the different challenges we may face. Each Growth Story is accompanied by some suggested discussion points. We recommend taking a look!
Create a safe space
Pupils not only feel better, but perform at their best when they feel safe. By creating an open environment where students are comfortable being themselves, and able to speak freely without judgment and criticism, you’re creating a safe environment. When students feel safe and a sense of belonging, feel listened to and have good peer and teacher relationships, you’re providing the foundations that make positive mental health possible.
Ensure teachers are equipped with the tools they need to support their pupils
All teachers should have access to mental health training, to ensure they’re equipped to handle whatever challenging situation presents itself in the classroom. Every class is different – children all have different personality types, inner struggles, strengths and weaknesses.
Take Teachers’ Wellbeing seriously
Of course the primary focus has to be on how to best support the children, but the mental health and wellbeing of teachers is of enormous importance too. How can teachers support their pupils if they themselves are feeling exhausted, stressed out and so demoralised they quit the profession? Education Support has recently published their latest Teacher Wellbeing Index which provides disturbing insight into the current state of mental health and wellbeing of teachers. Their survey of over 3,000 education staff found that
- 77% experienced symptoms of poor mental health due to their work
- 72% are stressed (rising to 84% for senior leaders)
- 54% have considered leaving the sector in the past two years due to pressures on their mental health
This is clearly completely unsustainable and, if government and education establishments don’t take rapid and effective action, things could get much worse very quickly. Just imagine the knock-on effects on other staff and children of 10% of staff actually leaving or being too sick to work.
We would love to hear from you! If you have other suggestions on how to positively influence pupils’ mental health and wellbeing, let us know in the comments below.