Mental health: What are the drivers for change?

Written by: Phil Arnold | Published:
Phil Arnold, curator, Great Northern Impact Hub
A good, informative read with a helpful suggested way forward. You are right to list a number of ...

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More of the same will not lead to the transformation that we need if we are to give our pupils the resilience they need to lead mentally healthy lives, argues Phil Arnold

I have spent the last year or so working for free with schools to support change and positive impact, especially when it comes to wellbeing and mental health. Things are slowly changing.

The awareness of mental heath is becoming less of a social stigma.Avoidance of the topic, is giving way to acceptance that young people’s mental health, anxiety or wellbeing are in a constant state of flux – especially given the pressures that 21st century life can bring.

Heads Together, for example, is the campaign coordinated by the Royal Foundation of the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge and Prince Harry. With eight charities and three major funders they have supported a collective conversation to help model positive acceptance, communication and actions (

Schools also need to act to address these issues. However, we often have to overcome a reluctance to do something. It is easier to think that someone else is better placed to do something rather than acting ourselves.

The answers are not in the back of the book. There is no one right way, solution or response.

However, the scale of things are set to grow. Spend time with children, young people and families and you can see that this rise in poor mental health across society is not answered with short-term hits, projects or interventions. Great care and thought is needed to create and build sustainable, responsive and dynamic collective ways forward.

Do the maths – more of the same does not add up. Transformation plans that keep the same ideas and things happening don’t tend to transform much.

Sub-division tends to lead to the inequality of opportunity and failure to engage.

And where people have to wait, get worse or fail to get early support, things get more difficult, expensive and trickier to resolve.
Performance focus is helpful but it should not get obsessive with marginal gains in process, role, systems and structures. It needs to highlight planned actions and also be open to emergent and disruptive opportunities too.

Mindsets, understanding risk, creativity and open access are needed to enable collective impact, productive shared actions, and to develop integrated and effective early intervention improvement strategies.

We need to highlight and share what we already know. To improve, we must go beyond KPIs and imagine and do new things that work for people, places and spaces we know. Standardisation leaves the majority unsatisfied and unsupported.

Tech can help but it should not be the sole driver of innovation. However, its aid to the interconnectivity and sharing of support, challenge and stakeholder-driven engagement is massive. It can renew the energy, ideas and opportunity for change, but people are still central to the sustainability and impact of the changes undertaken.

Furthermore, positive wellbeing climates don’t have to start and end at the school gates or indeed with pupils. Schools need to invest in the holistic wellbeing of their community, not just meet the school’s needs.

And staff wellbeing is key to enhanced performance, practice, innovation and professional standards. This is the bedrock of entrenching positive wellbeing in the heartbeat of any organisation.

Mental health problems are the leading cause of absence from work in the UK, but people are least likely to talk to a line manager about these issues. Encouraging conversations in schools is vital.

Drivers for change

However, there is plenty of good work going on in schools, where value is being added and positive impact gained.
Effective work to support good wellbeing and mental health begins with certain “drivers for change”, such as:

  • Building a different conversation.
  • Making changes to the environment.
  • Integrating technology.
  • Developing resources – curriculum, pedagogy and key support elements.
  • Enhancing training.
  • Beginning to work differently with other stakeholders.
  • Building outcomes and reporting impact differently.
  • Supporting governance and leadership to aid integration of positive wellbeing in both school and community.

Mental ill-health costs the UK £35 million a year. Greater still are the life-long costs to children and young people who have been negatively affected by poor mental health as they pass though an education system that is failing to give them the skills to develop resilience and positive mental health.

Making a little time to discuss these simple thoughts about addressing mental health needs in schools seems a positive place to start.

  • Phil Arnold is curator of the Great Northern Impact Hub. Phil works with charities, social enterprises, universities, local authorities, schools and their wider communities to build their capacity to create better climates of positive wellbeing. For more on the work of the Great Northern Impact Hub, contact @philarnold3, email or visit

A good, informative read with a helpful suggested way forward. You are right to list a number of interventions that will make a difference, one will work to support the other. Never has it been so important to address mental health when the Children's Society report 1 in 4 girls self harm and we have seen an increase in male suicide of under 25's. There is no quick fix but opening the conversation with staff teams, young people and their families is important if we are to begin to make a difference.
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