Last month, 210,000 teenagers in secondary schools across the country did their bit to end mental health discrimination and stigma by getting involved in Make Time in November – an initiative led by the campaigning mental health body, Time to Change, and supported by SecEd.
The idea behind the campaign was to offer free resources to schools to help them tackle mental health issues with their students. The resources were centred around four key themes:
One of the 320 schools taking part in the programme was Skinners’ Academy in Hackney, where Laura Windebank is the academy counsellor.
She explained: “Mental health stigma continues to be a massive problem across all ages and all cultures and it is sometimes surprising to see that it is a difficult area for young people to talk about,
“So the great thing about the Time to Change campaign was its simplicity: physical health and mental health – you should be able to talk about both. ‘Help a mate – don’t discriminate’ is also a good message.”
The importance of Ms Windebank’s role as academy counsellor is testimony to the serious and open approach the school takes to mental health.
Students, staff and families are all involved and there are good links to CAMHS and other services.
Ms Windebank herself sees students on a one-to-one basis, running both drop-in and group sessions as well as providing staff with the help and information they need to support good mental health and emotional wellbeing among the pupils and staff.
For Make Time in November, the decision at Skinners’ was to focus especially on 180 year 10 students who worked through the four, light-touch Time to Change resource sets during their weekly PSHE sessions.
Meanwhile, the whole school benefited from access to an interactive exhibition put together by the art department that used the Time to Change PowerPoint slides as part of the display alongside artwork on the theme of mental health, and quotes and pictures of celebrities who have spoken about their own mental health issues.
“The exhibition worked really well,” Ms Windebank continued.
“We had a ‘Time to Think’ board with five thought-provoking questions. A ‘Time to Ask’ box where students could post anonymous thoughts, feelings, suggestions or questions, or they could put their name to it for a member of staff to follow up with them.
“‘Time to Share’ was made up of three large boards on which students could draw or write their responses under the headings: ‘I feel happy when...’, ‘I feel stressed when...’ and ‘I feel angry when...’
“We found that students wrote their thoughts throughout the day as they often have to pass through the reception area, and they also went there in break, lunch time and after school.”
The exhibition was then finalised with the display of responses and thoughts along with posters and slides that provided details of where people could find out more and turn to for help.
“The students were really inspired through the combination of art work and mental health,” said Ms Windebank, “so much so that one year group and the art department focused on looking at art and mental health, and creating their own work on the subject.”
So what next for Make Time and the messages of destigmatisation it carries?
Time to Change’s own Children and Young People Team plans to nurture the commitment shown by so many schools across the country last month by offering teachers and youth professionals help in developing more sustained programmes and action plans.
At Skinners’ the plan is to continue to make mental and physical health a key focus by integrating health and wellbeing into all parts of academy life with pupils, their families, staff and the governors.
What is clear is that all of the 320 schools taking part in Make Time in November recognise that there is important work that needs to be addressed through education so that mental health is destigmatised and is treated with the same openness and value as physical health. Further informationTime to Change is England’s biggest programme to challenge mental health stigma and discrimination. For more details on its work and resources, visit www.time-to-change.org.uk