An easy way to tackle mental health

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The on-going focus on mental health must continue and the Make Time in November campaign is a quick, easy and effective way to kick-start this work, says SecEd editor Pete Henshaw.

This month, teachers in 285 secondary schools across England and around 185,000 of their students are doing their bit to help end mental health discrimination by participating in Make Time in November – an important campaign that SecEd is happy to promote given our on-going focus on supporting young people’s mental health.

The programme comes from Time to Change, a leading campaigning body on mental health discrimination, and coincides with a nationwide media campaign designed to communicate that mental health is as everyday and ordinary as physical health. Participating schools are using assemblies, form time, tutor groups and PSHE lessons to take students through the Make Time resources. 

The programme, which offers a range of simple yet effective resources for schools, helps students to think about their own mental health and explore simple ways to help friends with mental health issues. The aim is to challenge the stigma of mental health problems that can sometimes be worse for the young people than coping with the actual problems themselves.

The enthusiastic uptake of the programme is a strong and welcome indicator that mental wellbeing has become a much more urgent priority in schools. However, we must be clear about the nature of the problems we face. According to NSPCC research published last month, Childline held 34,517 counselling sessions in which children talked about suicide during 2013/14 – staggeringly, this is a 117 per cent increase since 2010/11.

Anecdotally, many teachers also report that the incidence of mental health problems in schools is increasing. One head of year from a Time to Change partner school is only to aware of this increasingly prevalent problem. He said: “Having been head of year 11 for five years. I have seen an increase in mental health issues – anxiety-related concerns, self-harm and other conditions in young people that would come under the umbrella of mental health.”

This growing problem gives additional weight to the many voices calling for a revival of attention on pastoral care in schools – something which I fear has lost out in recent years to a single-minded focus on academic performance. This has been a frequent view expressed by schools participating in Make Time in November. 

The other key driver for participation has been the change to the broad area of SEN set out in the 2014 SEND Code of Practice, which is now defined as “social, emotional and mental health difficulties”.

Unsurprisingly, the responsibility of addressing mental health can be daunting for teachers and school staff.

“This area of need can promote anxiety and perplexity in those adults with a duty of care for children and young people,” explained Jessica Nash, head of SEN at the SSAT, which has been working with Time to Change to introduce Make Time to its member schools. She added: “Some of their concern may reflect a wish to respond appropriately as a professional despite a lack of specialist knowledge and skills, some of it may be prompted by the pressures of pupil achievement being summatively assessed.”

On top of those concerns, it is clear that for some schools, the challenge is simply finding space in the timetable. Another participating teacher said: “Pupils are much more under stress these days, and so are staff. Yet teachers don’t have training in mental health – or spare time.”

While Time to Change continues to offer detailed and long-term advice and mentoring to schools on the issue, the key message behind the Make Time campaign is that it doesn’t have to be complex or time-consuming to fight the stigma that still attaches itself to mental illness – and leading the charge does not require specialist training around mental health.

The hope is that by providing ready-made, light-touch resources that fit neatly in to assembly or form time, teachers and students will begin to understand the simple things that they can do to make life better for themselves, or for friends who are having a hard time.

The Make Time programme continues across the month of November and SecEd will be reporting back on the experiences and reactions of participating schools. Most importantly, it is still not too late to join the programme and to take advantage of its simple yet effective resources.

Further information
Make Time in November offers resources centred around four key steps: what is mental health, thinking about your own mental health, helping your friends, and taking action on mental health. For details and to register, visit www.time-to-change.org.uk/november


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