Last year, SecEd supported the Make Time in November campaign launched by Time to Change, England’s biggest programme to end the stigma and discrimination faced by people with mental health problems.
The idea was to enlist as many secondary schools as possible in a nationwide movement to extend Time to Change’s message to more young people. In the event, 348 schools and educational organisations signed up and during November an estimated 234,000 students participated in the four simple sessions designed by Time to Change. The resources centred around four key themes:
Here’s how the campaign worked out...
“We know that there’s urgent concern about mental health issues in our secondary schools,” explained Jo Loughran, head of children and young people at Time to Change.
“We were heartened by the immediate enthusiasm from schools to engage with our messages – and the strong sense that Time to Change could offer schools something in this area that was of value to pupils.”
Following Time to Change’s Make Time campaign, Ms Loughran’s team has just completed a follow-up research exercise with 81 of the schools who delivered the four sessions.
The majority strongly agreed that mental health is a more pressing priority today than it has ever been. Nearly three quarters pointed to an increased incidence of mental health problems among their students.
Although the vast majority are clear that they have always given mental health a high priority, half recognised that the new SEND framework has focused more attention on the issue.
But the demands of a curriculum that has been increasingly focused on academic achievement have definitely made a difference – 53 per cent of schools involved in the Make Time programme feel that, in spite of the urgent need to address mental health issues, the teacher capacity focused on pastoral care seems to have diminished in recent years.
There is a growing chorus of concern about a whole range of mental health problems. Comments from participating teachers included:
“Our students are pressurised to conform to the expectation regarding getting into the best schools and appearing to be perfect at all times.”
“A lot of our students are demonstrating signs of depression. We have a full-time student counsellor who primarily helps with anxiety.”
“Our case-load is full with the students. Cognitive Behavioural Therapy is key for them. They would love information on self-harm and eating disorders and extreme low self-esteem.”
Time to Change focuses on tackling the stigma and discrimination that people with mental health problems experience. Eradicate that and you not only remove a factor that makes life worse for people with mental health problems, but you also unblock the simple ways we can all communicate and support friends who are having a difficult time.
“We know from our research that nearly half of students with mental health problems are so afraid of the negative backlash that they might receive, they have chosen not to tell anyone at school or college,” explained Jenny Taylor, national programme manager at Time to Change. “They’re silenced by the stigma and worried they may be bullied as a result of their mental health at the very moment when they most need the support of family, friends and teachers.”
The key, according to Time to Change, is keeping it simple – focusing on a few straightforward messages. During the Make Time sessions, students were first encouraged to look at mental health as an ordinary everyday thing that everyone has and which fluctuates throughout people’s lives – just like physical health. They were then invited to think about their own mental health and to reflect on what makes them feel better.
The third message was that we can all make time for our mates and that it is often the little things that can make a difference, like keeping friends involved or texting them to say hello. And the fourth resource focused on inspiring students to take the campaign to end mental health stigma out into their community.
Offering these simple, communicable ways into an issue that for many teachers can feel daunting has been enormously important – and the approach offers a compelling example to any school that is finding it difficult to take the plunge in communicating on mental health issues.
For busy teachers, it is also clearly very helpful if the mental health “story” can be delivered in compelling bite-sized chunks. In designing the sessions, the Time to Change team thought through the different settings where the resources might be used. The research shows a fairly equal spread of use across assemblies, form time, tutor groups and PSHE lessons, with a number of schools describing additional exposure for the materials in displays in reception, art exhibitions, and hand-outs to take home.
The key – in every context – was not just to deliver clear simple messages, but to get students thinking about mental health in new ways. So an important lesson from the research was the vital role of the elements of the campaign that were primarily about prompting discussion.
Time to Change’s thought-provoking films (especially Meet the Wolfpack, which tells the “look out for your mates” story through the tale of a gang of streetwise canines) were by far the most popular resources in the Make Time packs.
The next favourite were the hand-outs – including temporary tattoos – designed to prompt conversations between the sessions among students.
“It was important to us to find ways of encouraging schools to tackle mental health stigma and discrimination over time,” explained Ms Loughran. “If you can help students build up an understanding over a period, with gaps between sessions so they can think about the issues and discuss them with friends, it is very powerful.”
The challenge now for Time to Change is to find ways of sustaining the commitment of secondary schools to those simple, effective messages. One priority is to help schools take the story out to parents by distributing fun, thought-provoking materials – such as fridge magnets and car fresheners – which encourage students, parents and guardians to talk about mental health at those key moments of the day when they find themselves in conversation.
Another important focus is to find ways that schools themselves can sustain the dialogue about mental health. The aim is to help schools set up their own peer support networks – either on a local basis or by piggy-backing on existing structures – so that they can share problems, offer each other advice and build up a collective bank of expertise and insight for the future.
Ms Loughran added: “Time to Change can provide the stimulus and some useful guides on how to network effectively, but we all know that the most powerful and credible support that teachers get is from other teachers. We want to unlock that power for the sake of our students’ mental health.”
Time to Change
Time to Change is England’s biggest programme to challenge mental health stigma and discrimination. For details on its work and resources, visit www.time-to-change.org.uk