Promoting summer holiday wellbeing

Written by: Dr Pooky Knightsmith | Published:
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The long summer break can be challenging for students facing mental health or emotional wellbeing issues. Dr Pooky Knightsmith looks at how we can help students to prepare

While many of us look forward to the school holidays, for young people with mental health or emotional wellbeing issues they can be a difficult time.

For many young people school provides the routine and motivation to get up and out that they need to keep depression and anxiety at bay, and the support they need to keep their emotional wellbeing in check.

So it is important that you prepare students you are working with for the holidays ahead. Here are a few things you could discuss with them.

How do they feel about the holidays?

Discuss with the young person how they are feeling about the upcoming holidays and whether there is anything specific that is giving them cause for concern. In addition to the fact that they may not have access to their usual support network and the structure and stability of school, they may have specific concerns about:

  • Travelling.
  • Spending time with specific people.
  • Responsibilities at home.
  • School work for completion over the holidays.

Have an open discussion with them and generate a list of issues they are concerned about and be sure that you address each of these in turn. Gaining an understanding of why each item on the list is causing the student anxiety as well as thinking of possible ways around it.
Try to encourage them to think up their own solutions where possible rather than just feeding them the answers, as this will better prepare them for facing any unexpected difficulties they may encounter over the holiday period.

Who is currently aware of their difficulties?

Talk with the student about who, beyond school, is currently aware of what they are going through and what support they have been receiving. Depending on who knows what, it might be appropriate to discuss with the student how you might work with them to increase the number of people who have enough information to be able to provide effective support.

Who can they turn to at home?

Who knows and who can help are sometimes two different things. Out of the people who are aware of what is going on with the student, discuss with them who they might turn to if things get difficult or they need someone to talk to.

Other sources of support?

Identify further sources of support with the student. This is likely to include helplines and websites such as Childline and the Samaritans. Try to identify at least one source of support that is available 24/7 – the Samaritans or Childline are especially good in this regard.

What will their typical day look like?

How will they ensure structure and routine during the break? Think with the student about how they are going to spend their time over the holiday. The structure and routine of school can help to stave off depression and anxiety which can often lay almost dormant until the holidays arrive, bringing with them a lack of structure and no reason to get up, get dressed or get out.

Think about simple aims that you might agree with the student, such as “I will leave the house for at least 20 minutes each day – if I have no other reason, I will walk to the corner shop and back again”.

Think about how they might add routine to an otherwise unstructured day. This might include taking on household chores like emptying the dishwasher, preparing meals, walking the dog or watering the garden. Alternatively they might agree a schedule to regularly meet friends or choose to take up a holiday job or voluntary position that can provide them with motivation and structure.

Healthy coping mechanisms

Consider with the student what healthy coping mechanisms they might use if they are not managing. Rather than turning to unhealthy coping like self-harm, bingeing or abusing alcohol, think with them about how they might work through their feelings in another way, such as by painting, writing, listening to music or playing sport.

For some students, it may help to formalise the answers to these questions into a support plan that they can refer to if they are struggling. It can also be helpful to complete a Wellbeing Action Plan – a young person-friendly plan is freely available in electronic or hard copy via the Charlie Waller Memorial Trust.

  • Dr Pooky Knightsmith is a passionate ambassador for mental health, wellbeing and PSHE. Her work is backed up both by a PhD in child and adolescent mental health and her own lived experience of PTSD, anorexia, self-harm, anxiety and depression. Contact Pooky via www.pookyknightsmith.com Read her SecEd articles at http://bit.ly/2daU4zs

Further information & research

Charlie Waller Memorial Trust: www.cwmt.org.uk/resources


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