Loneliness is often associated with older age groups but data has shown that young people are more likely to feel lonely than older age groups. So, how can we prevent loneliness in schools, and why is this so important to the mental health of young people?
Alongside the effects that loneliness can have on childrens’ physical health, research shows that loneliness can also be a risk factor for depression and anxiety. Social interactions significantly support positive mental health and give us opportunities to give and receive help when we need it.
What are the signs of loneliness in pupils?
Anyone who interacts with children must be able to recognise when a child is struggling with their mental health and, more significantly, know how to take proper action.
Even if a pupil doesn’t tell you they’re lonely, they may show you signs, for example:
- They always spend break times at school alone.
- They aren’t invited to spend time with friends after school.
- They say they feel sad, or cry often.
- They spend a lot of time by themselves (although, some children are content to spend a lot of time alone, while others may be part of a large social circle but still feel lonely).
So, what can be done to help our children deal with loneliness? For many, school, and especially teachers, may be a safe haven. They may make kids feel safe and included by offering chances and resources for them to learn and play in a safe setting, as well as practical measures that can be implemented.
At Shawmind, we recommend that anyone who works with children should be well equipped to be that “safe haven”. Our Youth Mental Health Awareness course is an interactive learning session covering various aspects of children and young people’s mental health – from how to identify potential issues, to how you can help and support a young person who may be struggling. Our Headucation campaign works alongside schools to develop a culture shift towards sustainable better mental health and wellbeing – free of charge to the schools.
How to improve awareness and reduce loneliness in schools
A child’s mental health is just as vital as their physical health when it comes to their safety and well-being. It influences every part of their lives, including their academic achievement, relationships, and physical health. It can be difficult for adults to recognise when a child is experiencing loneliness, and it can be tough for young people to speak out about the loneliness difficulties they are dealing with.
Allow school to be a place of real, deep belonging for pupils. Create a sense of community by getting students involved in activities that give them an opportunity to socialise with each other. These activities could include everything from starting yearbook and chess clubs to drama groups and sports teams. Activities that involve community service are also good opportunities for the students to socialise with each other and externally.
Another great idea is normalising the concept of youngsters spending time alone by providing outdoor seating spaces for reading or providing pleasant settings for kids to work in, such as a garden, to celebrate doing individual activities. We should also consider how powerful and potentially harmful talks and stories depicting a “perfect life full of friends” may be, especially for lonely pupils.
Developing young peoples’ communication and emotional literacy skills is important to reduce the impact loneliness will have on mental health. Starting a conversation about mental health and providing books on a variety of mental health topics can be great ways to start the conversation about loneliness and allow pupils to express their feelings.
Headucation emphasises the importance of early intervention. Children and teenagers spend much of their adolescent lives in education settings surrounded by teachers. Yet, with no mandatory or government-funded mental health training, many signs of mental health go unnoticed or get mishandled by the school staff.
By training teachers in the basics of mental health, they will be better equipped to spot the signs of mental health struggles in young people, support mental health problems in the classroom and signpost young people to alternative mental health resources besides the GP.