How mental health affects education

NHS research suggests that 1 in 6 UK school children struggle with mental health. Mental health challenges make it difficult for children to achieve high grades, form friendships and make positive choices that can impact the rest of their lives.

Traditionally, educators have focused on improving ‘academic excellence’ – which of course is still a primary objective for schools. However, given how much of their lives children spend in an education setting, shouldn’t the focus also be on improving their overall wellbeing?

Mental health & academic performance

Many children actually achieve low grades because their mental health challenges cause:

  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Lack of optimism
  • Difficulty sleeping

All of which makes it hard to focus on school work and put in their best effort. So if you want to improve grades, you need to make sure each child’s mental health is taken care of.

That’s not to say that only low-performing children are struggling with mental health – many high performing students struggle with stress, anxiety and other challenges brought on by their high workloads. These children are at risk of burning out or turning to risky methods of release such as substance abuse or gang-crime.

Mental health & behaviour

Children who struggle with their mental health can be prone to irritability, emotional outbursts, aggressive behaviours or boredom that leads to disobedience and disruption. Children exhibiting these behavioural issues are often punished with detentions or suspensions to reduce the risk of disrupting other students.

Behavioural problems caused by mental health challenges make it difficult for children to form relationships with their classmates – especially when school leaders separate them from the rest of the children.

Friendships and connections with classmates can improve academic performance, understanding of the subject, teamwork skills and self-esteem. Ideally, schools should work on children’s mental health challenges that are leading to behavioural problems in the first place before removing the children from what can be a highly-beneficial classroom setting.

Mental health & school attendance

For many children, struggles with mental health cause them to skip school or call in with physical illnesses. The stress and anxiety caused by workload, peer groups and social pressures can be overwhelming for anyone – let alone a schoolchild.

Similarly, the stigma that still exists around mental health problems can lead to bullying (or the fear of it) in children that have identified and acknowledged their mental health challenges.

If children don’t feel mentally well enough to attend their lessons in the first place, how are they meant to get an education?

How can schools help with mental health?

Spot signs of mental health struggles

Teachers spend a lot of time with children during the week, during that time they should be on the lookout for signs of mental health problems. Some common signs of mental health challenges in children are:

  • Tiredness
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Lack of confidence
  • Reduced socialising
  • Big changes in weight
  • Losing interest in things they used to enjoy
  • Frequent absences
  • Complaints of physical pain like headaches and stomach-aches

Reduce mental health stigma

To encourage children to come forward when they are struggling and to reduce bullying that occurs when they do, schools need to reduce the stigma around mental health. We have many guides and activities that you can use for children of all ages to help them understand mental health and start conversations without fear of judgement.

Trigger Publishing also have a great selection of children’s books to teach them about mental health.

Mental health training for teachers

With teachers expected to be the mental health first responder in the classroom, school leaders should make sure they train teachers in the basics of mental health to be able to more easily spot the warning signs and provide appropriate support.

Shawmind is dedicating itself to training 151,000 teachers by 2025 in the basics of mental health support at no cost to the school. That means we aim to equip mental health first responders who will reach 2.5-million school children. If you’re a teacher or school leader interested in mental health training, get in touch with us.

We need the support of local communities and businesses to help fund this training. It costs just £5 per child to train a teacher in the basics of mental health support – imagine the difference you could make by donating or booking one of our mental health training courses.

 

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Let’s improve your mental health awareness…

Mental health awareness is crucial to being able to support your friends, colleagues and relatives during difficult times. Having an awareness of some common mental health challenges and their symptoms enables you to reach out to people in need and reduce the stigma around mental health conversations.

On top of helping others, boosting your mental health awareness can actually help you to look after your own mental health and identify challenges sooner.

Mental Health Literacy

The first step to boosting your mental health awareness is to access all the literacy you can. At Shawmind, we’ve created many mental health guides for different groups of people and mental health challenges, including:

You can search for more mental health guides on our website, and also read individual mental health stories and get quick mental health tips in our blog.

Publishing company Trigger has a wide selection of mental health books that can help you improve your mental health awareness and support you with the challenges you’re facing.

Tip: Follow mental health organisations and ambassadors on social media to get advice and support straight in your feed without having to go looking for it.

Early Mental Health Support

When you first become aware of mental health challenges in your life, there are a range of low-commitment support options that you can explore – knowing what these are and how they can help makes tackling your mental health much less daunting.

Talking about your mental health challenge with someone is one of the simplest ways to start. We offer different ways that people can talk with trained volunteers who can provide advice, lend a kind ear and even signpost professional services if needed. These include:

Helplines are offered by many mental health organisations that you can text or call 24/7 to discuss any problem you’re facing without judgement. Find a mental health helpline.

Mental health first aiders are individuals in the workplace who have been trained to support you with mental health challenges you may be facing before a professional mental health specialist is contacted. You can go to a mental health first aider to discuss how you’re feeling during work hours and with someone who can provide recommendations based on an understanding of how the company works.

Accessing mental health support without a diagnosis

If you require professional mental health support, you can access a lot of it without needing an official diagnosis of a mental health disorder. Many organisations offer support services that only require a self-referral e.g. NHS talking therapies. Reach out to your preferred mental health service to find out if they accept self-referrals.

How to get a mental health diagnosis

You can struggle with mental health and access support without an official diagnosis – your challenges and feelings are just as valid as anyone else’s. Acknowledging this is a huge part of improving mental health awareness in yourself and others.

However, in some instances, a mental health diagnosis will help you to identify the best treatment options, triggers and potential risks in the future.

You can receive a mental health diagnosis from your GP for more common mental health problems like anxiety and depression after a couple of visits – however, in more complex cases they may refer you to a mental health specialist to receive a diagnosis.

 

It is more than likely that everyone will struggle with mental health at some point in their life. For some, this may be more severe than others – however, by increasing your own awareness you’ll be in a better position to get the support you or those you know need.

Follow us on social media or sign up for our newsletter to stay up to date with our mental health advice, events and campaigns.

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Why mental health first aid is important

Why do businesses need mental health first aid?

It is estimated that about 1 in 4 people experience poor mental health during their working life. Everything from stress to clinical depression impacts how employees perform at work with poor mental health costing the UK economy up to £70bn each year.

In 2019/2020 stress, depression or anxiety accounted for 51% of all work-related ill health cases and 55% of all working days lost due to work-related ill health, according to the HSE’s Work-related stress, anxiety or depression statistics in Great Britain report 2020.

Even with a designated mental health representative in a business, it can be hard for employees to feel comfortable discussing their problems – with 89% of people not telling their employees about mental health struggles and half still going to work while feeling suicidal. (Source)

What does a mental health first aider do?

A mental health first aider acts as the first point of contact for any employees who want to discuss their mental health. The mental health first aider can provide advice and support in a confidential, non-judgemental way before a professional mental health specialist is contacted (always with the person’s permission).

Not everyone wants to talk to a therapist if they’re feeling temporarily overwhelmed at work – a mental health first aider is an accessible low-commitment route for employees to get some guidance and prevent a build-up of emotions and stress that can lead to a larger mental health problem.

While some employees may have a colleague they feel comfortable confiding in, for more severe mental health concerns these untrained colleagues can struggle to provide advice and signpost appropriate support. Mental health first aiders are trained to know which organisations and services will be most suitable for each condition.

As well as being trained to talk to employees who reach out, mental health first aiders are also provided with the training to spot when someone in the business may be struggling with their mental health but not voicing it. This enables the first aider to make the first move and provide support to those employees who are struggling.
A mental health first aider can also help business leaders make their organisations more mental health-friendly e.g. identifying when working arrangements may need to change.

How a mental health first aider helps businesses

Employees who feel better will perform better. But alongside the improvements to business productivity, having a mental health first aider within your company can improve your brand image, improve staff retention, attract better talent and lead to better investment opportunities.

Businesses who actively look after their employee’s mental health could retain 78% of 18-24-year-olds who leave, 42% of their overall workforce and 25% of their critical staff. (Source)

Mental health awareness has significantly increased over the last few years meaning that the way a company handles employee mental health has a huge impact on the way a business is perceived from the outside. 88% of people take into account business’ mental health and wellbeing strategies when job hunting and 73% of investors analyse a company’s Environmental, Social and Governance (ESG) performance.

Become a Mental Health First Aider

Sign up to our Mental Health First Aider training, accredited by MHFA England where you will be provided with

  • An extensive understanding of mental health and things that can affect someone’s mental wellbeing
  • Techniques and skills that enable you to identify the signs of various of mental health issues
  • Confidence to reassure and support someone who is in distress
  • Skills to help improve your own listening abilities – e.g. non-judgemental listening
  • Knowledge to signpost individuals to support and resources, e.g. helplines, GP, written information
  • The knowledge and understanding of how to keep yourself safe in your role as MHFA
  • A certificate of completion and MHFA Qualified status
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