Contributing Authors, Charlotte James, and Clare Harris
So what is it like for a Deputy Head on a daily bases who leads on mental wellbeing in the school? We have over 400 children in our primary school, in a relatively affluent area of the country. Our staff are engaged and proactive, our Head is supportive and does all they can to allocate budget to the areas of greatest need. I have been given a broad range of mental health work and come with lots of experience in this area.
Despite this, there are teachers in every school I have worked at who have experienced mental health to the degree of needing to take time out. We have approx. 40 children with mental health-related issues affecting learning and behaviour – and these are the cases we know of. As we know, mental health often flies under the radar with both adults and children often unaware, unable or unwilling to identify what they are experiencing and speak up.
We are trying to break the stigma. As a school, we regularly speak about mental health and take part in whole school mindfulness in assemblies. We dedicate an hour a week to deliver PSHE in lessons. For those students who experience big emotions and need extra emotional support, there are opportunities to have 1-1 conversations, lunch clubs, ELSA and THRIVE sessions. We link this to our values in school and this is underpinned by our mantra of ‘Be Kind, Give Your Best’.
During Children’s Mental Health Week, we made a concerted effort and set up a reflection space within the school, which every child visited and spent time taking part in the four activities:
This was a simple exercise using water and effervescent tablets, in order to understand how important it is to forgive. The children discussed the concept if they held the anger and did not forgive how this would affect their mental health.
This activity used art to reflect on what friendship is and how to be a good friend to others.
The children were given quiet time to watch the bubbles and reflect on what they hoped for. This could be in regard to anything like the world, their families or what they aspired to.
Pupils created people out of a bottle cleaner. The person they created needed to reflect someone they were grateful for. They spent some time thinking about why they were grateful for these people and how they were important people in their life.
By using interactive approaches and special events, this helps us with the conversation – which we would hope will be shared further in the playground, classroom and at home. It also keeps mental wellbeing on the school agenda so that children can understand and learn to manage their emotions and support each other. All helping to breakdown the stigma of mental health from an early age.
My hope for the future is that primary schools are a safe place for children to learn to express themselves and support each other through good times and bad.
If I were to share some quick and simple small steps that both fellow teachers and parents could practice regularly to be habits, these would be.
Top tip 1 – Talk the talk…..but listen:
Find someone you trust that you can talk to. Give time in the day to actually talk about how your day has been and allow opportunities to share emotions and feelings.
Listening to someone who is struggling can be a great help! Remember we cannot always solve problems easily, and sometimes not all, when it comes to mental health. But allowing someone to talk without being judged or told what to do can be a real comfort.
Top tip 2 – Just breath:
I often use the analogy that feelings can be like a snow globe. When the snow globe is shaken this can represent our emotions when we are upset. When we experience being upset we will feel a number of emotions. However, when feeling and experiencing these we are often incapable of making good decisions, thinking rationally and being able to function as we normally would.
Allowing ourselves time to focus and notice our breathing gives our emotions the chance to return to normal – just like the snow in the globe.
Top tip 3 – Be kind:
We have all had bad days. But when a random person has smiled at us or said something that has lifted our spirits, this can really help. Being kind is free and doesn’t take an awful lot of effort. You never know what people are going through on the inside, even if they have a smile on their face on the outside!
From reading this article I hope you can to ‘find your brave’, and help others to do the same.
- Be brave enough to share with someone when you’re struggling.
- Be brave enough to seek support and help – your GP is a great place to start for both adults and children.
- Be brave enough to accept that life has ups and downs and that we can’t be happy all the time!
- Be brave to understand you’re not alone!