Mental Health and Well-being
Mental Well-being has been firmly placed on the national agenda with an increasing number of children experiencing behaviours that indicate anxiety or stress. These behaviours include attachment issues, attention seeking behaviours, reluctance to come into school, negative thinking traps, friendship problems, anger, lack of focus, and negative or destructive behaviours to name but a few.
We know children learn best when they feel safe, secure and emotionally stable. We also know that providing a mentally healthy, nurturing culture for our children, parent and staff community contributes to good mental health which then improves a child’s prospects of leading a full and active life.
What Is Mental Health?
We all have a degree of mental health just as we have a degree of physical health. Mental health includes emotional, psychological, and social well-being. It affects how we think, feel, and act. It also helps determine how we handle stress, relate to others, and make choices.
Mental health is important at every stage of life, from childhood and adolescence through adulthood. It is quite natural for children to worry and to be anxious at various stages of school and home life.
However, there comes a point where anxieties and worries can consume a person’s life to a point it affects their emotional, psychological, social well-being and ability to think, act and function.
We are all exposed to risks that can contribute to increased worries, anxieties and ill health.
These risks can be linked to differences in a person's temperament (for example, being more emotionally placid or more volatile) as well as exposure to harmful experiences, environments or events including trauma, family disharmony, loss, separation, parental divorce, domestic violence, physical, sexual and emotional abuse, friendship/school issues, poor self-image/esteem, discrimination, poverty, neglect, homelessness etc.
Not all children exposed to risks develop mental health difficulties. This is because each of us has different levels of resilience. Resilience is the ability to cope with setbacks and thrive despite the challenges of life. Some children are more resilient. The good news is that resilience can be developed and nurtured with the right support, encouragement and environment. We call resilience a ‘protective factor’.
The ability to stay calm and put things into perspective can be particularly 'protective’ as can the ability to view mistakes as positive opportunities for growth rather than something to dwell on and worry about.
Children learn empowering attitudes and resilience through their interaction with adults around them through their language they use and their own behaviours. These key adults include parents, carers, family members, teachers and friends and all have a role to play in developing a child’s capacity to display resilience and cope with change and setbacks.
We also know that certain harmful experiences in childhood can be detrimental to children’s development. Sometimes these events can go unnoticed and what may seem trivial can result in hidden trauma that later leads to physical and mental health problems, school disengagement and risk-taking behaviours.
These adverse childhood experiences include:
For this reason, the ability to cope and thrive is not just about children learning skills and empowering attitudes, but also about how adults in children’s lives, in their schools and communities take action to offset the family and environmental factors and barriers that can undermine children’s ability to thrive.
How do we promote good mental health and well-being?
There are a number of ways we promote good mental health and well-being. These include:
Environment and culture
Signs and symptoms
Mental health issues are not always obvious and can quickly become progressively worse and more apparent if left unchecked. Early identification and intervention is important to avoid matters escalating. To do this, we need to know when a person is in need as they are not always aware themselves. Concerns may be raised by people who know them well, for example a parent or a member of staff who notices something is not quite right.
We recognise the family plays a key role in influencing children and young people’s emotional health and well-being; and will work in partnership with parents and carers to promote emotional health and well-being.
Signs and symptoms to look out for include:
We use a graduated approach based on an assessment of need. In this first instance, we offer a curriculum that teaches all children strategies for good mental health through self-help and awareness.
Our curriculum includes opportunities to work on developing positive attitudes, resilience, appreciation, gratitude, reflection, self-help, the ability to put things into perspective and a growth mind-set.
Further, carefully planned activities help children to value stillness and silence, the intangible, music, the arts, appreciation, gratitude, a sense awe and wonder and dealing with negative thinking traps.
Some children may need a little more help and for this group of children we offer school pastoral support. If the need is beyond the school’s expertise, we may advise parents to turn to external providers. If the child is in immediate danger, we follow our Child Protection procedures.
Self-help and the curriculum
Good mental health should not be solely the responsibility of others or circumstances we find ourselves in. Both parents and the school play an important role in teaching and modelling the following strategies and behaviours that can improve mental health and well-being :
1. Tell yourself something positive every day.
2. Try to live in the moment more rather than what might happen or has happened.
3. Regular exercise and fresh air (every day).
4. Make sure you have a good balanced diet and drink sufficient fresh water each day.
5. Get into the habit of talking and opening up to others.
6. Do something for someone else each day (an act of kindness).
7. Take a break including hobbies.
In the first instance, pastoral support is offered by the class teacher. Pastoral support provides a listening ear as well as providing information, advice and guidance to children.
This can help identify what might be the root of a person’s difficulties and prove a forum for solutions. It may also identify a learning need that the class teacher can plan for.
For example, if a child is having difficulty in putting events into perspective, a plan may be put into place to help the child do this. Scaling is a strategy that we use to teach children about perspectives. Zones of Regulation is another strategy we use to teach children to grade their emotions which then offers them a menu of options or strategies to get themselves out of this negative thinking trap.
Unfortunately, we do not have the funds or access to a school-based children’s counsellor but we do have a dedicated person in the school who can assist with and offer more timetabled pastoral support.
Alternatively, pastoral support is offered by another adult in the school. It could be a Learning Support Assistant or Class teacher.
A Focused Plan
If the concern requires more than a listening ear, guidance and support, a plan may be put in place. For example, teaching the child strategies for coping with difficult situations, friendships, bullying, coping with tests etc.
Alternatively, reasonable adjustments may need to be made to reduce the stressors or causes of anxiety. Children diagnosed with Autistic Spectrum Disorder for example often require a different approach to lessen the impact of stressors on their anxiety and well-being. Sometimes these adjustments are temporary measures.
Each case is dealt with on a case-by-case basis and the type of support may vary.
Where the needs of the child are such that more specialist help is required, we discuss this with parents and the routes available to seek outside the school setting.
Social, Emotional and Mental Health needs’ (SEMH) is an overarching term for children and young people who show difficulties in one or more of the following:
These difficulties may be displayed through them becoming withdrawn or isolated, as well as through challenging behaviour.
For some children difficulties in their emotional and social development can mean that they need additional and different provision in their school in order to achieve. It is important that they are able to form and maintain healthy relationships and fully engage in the learning opportunities provided.
In some circumstances, a referral to the GP or Emotional Well-being and mental health service may be appropriate.
In the first instance, EWMHS will look to promote the use of early intervention services, which may include psycho-education, talking therapies, mentoring or support as recommended within the National Institute of Clinical Excellence Guidelines. There are other resources available that can provide a range of supportive interventions. This support includes digital and online resources for example websites and Apps. These are freely available and may be accessed via the NELFT EWMHS web resource at:
NHS App library
We have a list of other website links below which families can access for advice and support.
Where concerns are such that we feel the child is at risk of immediate harm, our Child Protection procedures are followed.
If a parent is concerned about a child’s wellbeing, they should feel at ease to discuss this with an adult at the school. This could be the class teacher in the first, the pastoral leader/Family Support Worker or the head teacher.
If a child has received a diagnosis of a mental health issue, or is receiving support either through Emotional Well-being Health Service or another organisation, we will consider drawing up an Individual Care Plan. This plan should involve the pupil, parents, and relevant professionals.
Above all, promoting good mental health and well-being in schools relies on every member of staff playing their part. Every interaction between a child and a staff member is significant and can shape a child’s thinking or hold a part of the jigsaw that could support a struggling child to move forward.