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How to support common mental health conditions in schools

1 in 6 school-aged children develop a common mental health condition, yet at present teachers receive no training to support children’s mental health.

As part of our Headucation campaign, we’re aiming to train teachers in the basics of mental health so that they can provide early intervention to children and support the development of positive mental health.

Without sufficient training, teachers may feel unprepared to deal with common mental health conditions that children experience and that have an impact on their education. We want to help teachers to feel more confident and prepared. Here are some common mental health conditions you may see in children and some initial steps you can take to support them.

Anxiety in schools

Anxiety is incredibly common in children and may be more common in particular situations such as public speaking, demonstrations and socialising. Some children may experience anxiety so severe or frequent that it disrupts their daily lives.

Signs of anxiety in school

Some common signs of anxiety in children can include poor performance, irritability and even physical manifestations like stomach aches. Find out more about the signs of anxiety in children.

How to support anxiety in school

  1. Help children face their fears by helping them identify what is making them anxious and help them to develop strategies for coping
  2. Ask questions about previous experiences to help them uncover triggers and emotions linked to the anxiety-inducing situation
  3. Celebrate small wins with pupils when they take a step towards facing their anxiety
  4. Talk openly about anxiety with all children to reduce stigma and encourage them to seek help

ADHD in schools

ADHD describes children who demonstrate overactive and impulsive behaviours as well as difficulties concentrating and paying attention. It is thought that 2-5% of children have ADHD in the UK. Without proper support, ADHD can make it difficult for children to achieve high grades, build relationships and develop high self-esteem.

Signs of ADHD in school

Common signs of ADHD in school children include forgetfulness, difficulty focusing on and completing tasks, fidgeting and interrupting.

How to support ADHD in school

  1. Find opportunities for children to walk around the classroom during lessons, e.g. games, writing things on the whiteboard or regular breaks
  2. Give children more time to process information before responding by outlining the lesson prior to starting
  3. Break work into smaller chunks so that there is less to focus on at once
  4. Use special phrases that grab attention and stimulate interest, e.g. “wait for it”, “here we go”, or “the next part is really interesting”
  5. Develop your knowledge and understanding of ADHD with courses and training

Eating Disorders in schools

Eating disorders can affect anyone regardless of age, gender, ethnicity or background – despite the stereotypes that exist in the media. Eating disorders are often associated with severely limiting one’s food intake or purging after eating through laxatives or inducing vomiting – however it can also include eating extreme quantities of food at once, excessive fasting, excessive exercise in response to food intake or any combination of these behaviours.

Most eating disorders start in childhood or adolescence, so schools can play a crucial part in spotting the signs and providing early intervention.

Signs of eating disorders in schools

Children and young people with eating disorders may skip meals, avoid eating around others, disappear after mealtimes and even display physical symptoms of malnutrition including thinning hair and dry skin.

How to support eating disorders in schools

  1. Educate yourself about eating disorders to better understand the signs, symptoms and help available. (Why not take a look at our online course on eating disorders?)
  2. Talk openly about eating disorders to reduce stigma and encourage children to seek help
  3. Share tools and resources that children can use to access support when they need it. Beat is an incredible eating disorder charity with great support for young people.
  4. Discuss any concerns you have with your school’s safeguarding lead as well as the child’s parent/carer

Insecure attachment in schools

Attachment is a complex psychological theory around the bonds formed between children and their primary caregiver(s). Insecure attachments are formed when a child has a negative or poor bond with their caregiver that is often a result of the home environment being a source of fear rather than safety. Insecure attachments in school children can lead to disruptive behaviour and difficulty forming relationships in later life.

Signs of insecure attachment

Many children with insecure attachments do not feel safe around other people and as such may refuse to ask for help, avoid social situations and elicit inappropriate responses to emotional situations (e.g. laughing when someone is in pain).

How to support insecure attachment in schools

  1. Build positive relationships with the child that help them feel safe, enabling you to work on any behavioural issues they display
  2. Engage with other adults in their life to understand what is causing the child to feel this way
  3. Discuss the attachment issues with a professional or undertake training in attachment theory

Depression and low mood in school

It is normal for a child (or adult) to not feel 100% happy all the time and to experience times when they feel irritable with little pleasure of motivation. However, if someone feels this way consistently for longer than two weeks, they may be suffering with depression or low mood.

Signs of depression in school

Depression can be caused by many factors including bullying and exam stress – common signs of depression in children include irritability, not wanting to attend school and losing interest in things they once enjoyed.

How to support depression in schools

  1. Educate yourself so that you can fully understand how children with depression may feel and act
  2. Signpost to professional resources that can help children understand their own mental health
  3. Express an interest in how they are feeling so that they know they can talk to you (or another member of staff they may feel more comfortable with)
  4. Share any concerns with other wellbeing leaders within the school who can take the appropriate next steps

Take a look at our online self-led course Understanding Depression or get in touch to discuss mental health training for teachers through #Headucation.

Teachers and schools play a vital role in the support of mental health conditions in children but they need more help to do it effectively. Help us raise money for Headucation so we can provide fully-funded mental health training to schools that will enable their teachers to act as first responders and support children in the early stages of mental health conditions.

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How can young people get mental health support

Young people need mental health support more than ever. Help us make it better by supporting our Headucation campaign.

50% of all mental health problems start by the age of 14 (with 1 in 6 school-aged children having a common mental health condition) but there is an average 10-year delay between showing the first signs and getting appropriate treatment.

According to research, the most common reason young people had for not seeking support was ‘not feeling like their problem was bad enough’. Because of this sentiment, it’s not surprising that nearly 70% of young people would prefer to not have to go through a GP for mental health problems but only 50% are aware of other routes.

Even when teenagers are referred to specialist mental health services such as CAMHS, they are often rejected or made to join a long waiting list as these services are massively overstretched.

It’s clear that young people need more mental health support alternatives to the GP and NHS providers.

How can young people get mental health support without a GP?

Mental health organisations for young people

Many organisations offer great advice and resources for young people struggling with their mental health that can be accessed for free online and therefore require no referral from a GP.

There are also several great books on mental health available from Trigger Publishing that can help young people to learn useful techniques and draw from others’ experiences with mental health.

Mental health support in schools and workplaces

Many of the problems around young people’s mental health support come down to a lack of knowledge, a lack of accessibility and existing stigma around the topic. We can overcome these issues by making mental health support available within schools and young people’s workplaces.

Training a Mental Health First Aider or providing basic mental health training to staff can help to:

  • Increase awareness of the causes of mental health problems in young people
  • Spot the early warning signs of mental health problems in young people
  • Provide early intervention and initial support
  • Signpost to appropriate professional mental health support services when needed

Our Headucation campaign aims to provide fully-funded mental health training to teachers so that they can provide this mental health support to young people in schools.

All proceeds from our workplace mental health training programmes go straight into our Headucation fund.

Mental health peer support groups

Peer support groups are the perfect way for young people to support each other with mental health, normalise the conversation and reduce stigma for future generations.

Mental health peer support can take place in person or online and are offered by many mental health organisations

Mental Health Helplines

Young people must know about a few mental health helplines so that they can access support in critical times or outside of other organised support events.

By helping young people to access alternatives to GP mental health support, we can reduce the number of young people in need of intense clinical support and enable professional services to provide fast and efficient critical support for those who still need it.

Help us improve mental health support for young people by supporting our Headucation campaign – buy a product from our store, enrol on one of our courses or donate to our fundraiser.

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How to maintain a social life without alcohol

As a nation, Brits are renowned drinkers. Many of our social activities tend to revolve around drinking alcohol, pubs, bars and clubs. The drinking culture we have in Britain can make it hard for those avoiding alcohol to still be social without feeling like an outsider or even pressured to drink. Removing yourself from social situations completely can impact your wellbeing given how integral socialising is to building and maintaining positive mental health.

Some choose to forgo alcohol for personal or religious reasons, whilst others may be battling problems with alcohol or alcoholism. Many people forget (especially those who don’t struggle with alcohol) that alcoholism and other substance addictions are serious and challenging mental health conditions that need the appropriate support from those around them. But many people don’t want to sacrifice their social habits which means that sober people can often feel excluded.

But it’s not impossible to maintain a social life without. ‘Go Sober for October’ presents a great opportunity for us to share some tips for those with a difficult relationship with alcohol to maintain a healthy, sober social life.

Find alternative activities

If you can find other ways to spend time with people besides drinking, you will find it much easier to have an enjoyable social life without alcohol. Rather than going to a club for your birthday, why not try an activity like paintballing or a trip to the cinema? These activities don’t always have to be completely alcohol-free either – you can simply find ways to minimise the emphasis that will be placed on alcohol. Instead of going to the pub for dinner, find a restaurant where the focus will primarily be on the food.

It helps to have a couple of good options on hand for when people suggest something you think could be difficult for you. Figure out what activities you enjoy and what’s on offer locally so that you can always make a counter-suggestion if needed.

Find alternative drinks

While it may seem obvious to find something non-alcoholic to drink when staying sober, the key is to find something you genuinely enjoy drinking so that alcohol becomes less appealing. This can also make it easier to attend the same social gatherings as usual since you’ll have an alternative drink to look forward to. This can be a standard soft drink, speciality alcohol-free option (like mocktails) or even a hot drink. Try a few things out and see what you like.

Learn to say ‘no’

The people-pleasing part of many of us can make it difficult to say no to people when they ask us to do something or offer us something.

But it’s very unlikely that a situation will arise when refusing to drink alcohol will have catastrophic consequences – if anything, it’s likely to have the opposite effect in the long term.

Get used to saying ‘no’ by continuously turning down offers for drinks (or alcohol-centred social events if you find them challenging). You could even engineer this by having a friend who knows what you’re trying to do and get them to continuously offer you drinks so you can practice.

At the start of your sober journey there will always be questions about why you’re not drinking or why you won’t have ‘just one’. In this situation, you’ll massively benefit from having some prepared responses to decrease the chance of you being talked into drinking. Here are some examples:

  • “I just feel better when I don’t drink”
  • “I’m not feeling great and don’t want to make it worse”
  • “I had a bad experience a while back and I’ve been put off since then”
  • “My doctor said I can’t drink for a little while”

These don’t always have to be completely true, sometimes you just need a way to get people to drop the subject and move on.

If someone keeps pushing you and seems intent on getting you to drink, Mark Willenbring, an addiction psychiatrist, suggests asking “does my not drinking make you uncomfortable?” as this will often get them to immediately stop and reflect on their actions.

Prepare your friends and family

If you feel comfortable opening up to your loved ones about your choice to stop drinking, it will make it easier for you to avoid alcohol in social situations. They’ll be less likely to offer you alcohol (which means you don’t have to feel awkward about saying ‘no’) and may actively try to find non-alcohol-centred social events for you to go to.

Similarly to when saying ‘no’, you don’t have to tell everyone the whole story if you don’t feel comfortable with it. Keeping it simple and saying “I feel better when I don’t drink” is absolutely fine!

Have a sober network

We can probably all agree that it’s easier to stick to any commitment when there is more than one person involved. Arrange social events with other people who are sober or invite a sober friend along to other social events to help you stay away from alcohol. If you can’t bring them along, you can send them a message or give them a call with things get tough.

If you don’t have someone who is actively trying to avoid alcohol, ask for help from someone you trust who can help you stay away from alcohol.

Find healthy ways to respond to triggers

Some people drink when happy, some drink when they’re stressed and others drink for a variety of reasons. Take some time to identify why you drink so that you can prepare alternative ways to respond to that situation.

Drinking when stressed? Try going for a walk.

Drinking in celebration? Why not go out for afternoon tea?

Knowing what your triggers are can also help you avoid them – but we know it’s not always a realistic long-term strategy.

It’s not impossible to maintain a social life while battling alcoholism – but it might take some work.

Sometimes your social life will change as a result of becoming sober, but it doesn’t have to be for the worse. Often, going sober can help you spend more quality time with your friends and family, build stronger relationships and allow you to feel better both mentally and physically.

If you or someone you know is struggling with alcohol, reach out to Drinkaware.

Want to find out more about the mental health side and implications of additions like alcoholism? Take a look at our mental health awareness courses covering a range of mental health conditions and how you can spot and support those struggling.

All funds from our courses go directly into our Headucation campaign that aims to improve mental health in children and young people by training teachers in the basics of mental health support.

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Signs of anxiety to look out for in children

Anxiety is a feeling of uneasiness or fear that, in many situations, is normal to experience – however when you feel this way most of the time it can be debilitating and massively impact how you function on a day-to-day basis.

As adults, it can be incredibly difficult to identify and manage anxiety. So, just imagine what it feels like for a child who is struggling with anxiety themselves.

What factors put children more at risk of anxiety?

While anxiety can arise for seemingly no reason, there are some situations that more often lead to children developing anxiety:

  • Bullying
  • Abuse
  • Bereavement
  • Substance abuse
  • Divorce or difficult home situation (e.g., frequent arguments between parents)
  • Moving house or school
  • Pre-existing conditions such as ADHD or autism

Signs of anxiety in children

With children spending seven hours a day at school, here are some signs of anxiety that teachers should look out for:

  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Poor performance
  • Feeling tired
  • Change in eating habits
  • Easily angered or irritated
  • Frequent toilet visits
  • Constant worrying and negative thoughts
  • Complaining of physical pain like stomach aches and headaches
  • Emotional outbursts (e.g., crying or tantrums)
  • Being clingy
  • Disruptive behaviour

What to do if a child in your class has anxiety

  • Have someone in the school start a conversation with them – preferably a teacher or teaching assistant with mental health first aid or ELSA training
  • Talk openly about anxiety in the classroom to reduce the stigma around mental health – you can use our Sock It To Stigma classroom materials to help you
  • Talk to the child’s parents and refer them to professional support if appropriate

According to the latest research, one in six UK school children have a probable mental health disorder. Aside from parents, teachers are the adults that children spend most of their time with during the day. It is crucial that anyone who works with children can recognise the signs that a child may be struggling with their mental health and, more importantly, that they know how to take appropriate action. But with no compulsory mental health training, this task can feel overwhelming and difficult.

Our Headucation 2025 campaign aims to train 150,000 teachers in the basics of mental health support by 2025. Your school could be eligible for fully-funded mental health training. Get in touch with our team to find out more.

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Why think about mental health first aid in the workplace?

We know we talk about mental health first aid in the workplace a lot, but it is increasingly important for businesses to make sure they are doing everything they can to look after their employee’s mental health. Here’s why.

Improve productivity

Staff suffering with mental health conditions may find it hard to focus and carry out day-to-day activities. There has also been a rise in presenteeism, particularly in 18-29 year olds, where employees will not take time off to deal with mental illness and will instead continue to work either at a poorer level or until they burnout completely.

Mental health conditions that are not dealt with early on can lead to more severe situations where employees end up taking extended time off.

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.

A mental health first aider is equipped to spot when someone is showing signs of depression, stress or anxiety and can step in before it becomes a problem that has a huge impact on their day-to-day productivity.

Improve staff morale

Someone suffering with a mental health condition like anxiety or paranoia may cause them to doubt themselves, take criticism personally, and need constant approval for even minor tasks – none of which is good for the overall staff morale. By having Mental Health First Aiders in your business, you can spot when people are struggling with anxiety and put practices or processes in place to improve their self-esteem and support their mental health.

Save money

It is estimated that poor mental health at work costs the UK economy up to £70bn each year. This is because untreated mental health conditions lead to poor productivity, presenteeism, absenteeism and high staff turnover.

However, research conducted by Deloitte found that businesses who invest in supporting employee mental health get an average of £5 back for for every £1 spent on things like Mental Health First Aid training, Employee Assistance Programmes and other mental health training.

Attract and retain top talent

While only 42% of employers believe that workplace mental health strategies are important to job hunters, research has shown that 88% of professionals consider it when searching for new roles.

Research has also shown that mental health support at work is vital when it comes to keeping staff. 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)

Investing in employee mental health will help your business grow and make sure that employees enjoy working for you. Get started with our Mental Health First Aid training.

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For more support with mental health strategies in your workplace, get in touch with our team.

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Help with Health Anxiety

Health anxiety (or hypochondria) is when you become obsessed with the idea that you are – or will be – physically ill. Worrying about your health can lead you to miss out on experiences in your life and even develop physical symptoms.

After the COVID-19 pandemic, it is understandable to be more aware and wary of physical illnesses – however if you are experiencing so much anxiety about your health that you are struggling to focus on anything else, you may want to consider seeking help.

Health anxiety symptoms

You may be struggling with health anxiety if you:

  • Visit/call your GP regularly
  • Worry that medical tests and doctor’s examinations may miss something wrong with you
  • Frequently check yourself for signs of serious illness and self-diagnose
  • Constantly worry about your physical health
  • Obsessively research health information online
  • Avoid reading, watching or listening to things that talk about physical illnesses (e.g. medical dramas, case studies, etc)
  • Live your life as if you were ill even when you’re not – taking sick days, avoiding physical activity, not travelling far from home

Physical symptoms of health anxiety

Health anxiety can also manifest in several physical symptoms brought on by continuous stress and worrying, such as:

  • Headaches
  • Shortness of breath
  • Panic attacks
  • Dry mouth
  • Racing heartbeat
  • Sweating
  • Aching body and muscles

Help with health anxiety

There are a few different ways you can manage your health anxiety

  • Write down and challenge your thoughts – rather than letting worries build in your mind, jot them down along with some reasons why they might not be true e.g. “I’m getting lots of headaches which means there’s something wrong with me” leads to “headaches are often a sign of stress” which in turn leads you to question what’s causing stress and address it.
  • Keep busy – when you feel the urge to check yourself or research illnesses, go for a walk or do an activity that keeps your mind distracted.
  • Face your fears – if there’s a part of your life you’ve been avoiding (such as exercise or travel), start to introduce these back into your routine to gradually become more comfortable doing them and teach your brain that these activities aren’t dangerous.
  • Talk to someone about your health anxiety – talk to a friend, your workplace mental health first aider or use services like our Breathe Café Online to get support from trained volunteers.
  • Talk to a professional – if these self-help ideas don’t work to relieve your health anxiety over time, contact a GP or mental health professional for more support.

 

Anxiety of any kind is debilitating. It can destroy productivity and takes the joy out of life.

At Shawmind, we’re here to help you enjoy your life and perform at your best through support groups, mental health training and professional advice.

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Signs of anxiety to look out for in the workplace

 

Anxiety is a normal response to worrying situations and everyone is likely to feel moments of anxiety in their lives. However, when feelings of anxiety persist it can be hard for someone to control their worries and live their lives as normal.

Knowing what signs of anxiety to look out for in the workplace can help you to a) support someone in their time of need and b) prevent the anxiety from deteriorating into other mental health conditions.

Mental health conditions overall can be hard to spot since they affect people’s thoughts and emotions – however there are a number of physical and behavioural signs that might signal someone you work with is struggling with anxiety.

Signs of anxiety in the workplace:

  • Taking unusual amounts of time off work
  • Increased pessimism and lack of enthusiasm
  • Seeking constant approval and reassurance from managers and/or peers
  • Struggling to meet deadlines
  • Overreacting to comments or situations
  • Tiredness and lack of energy
  • Change in eating habits
  • Forgetfulness

What can you do if you think someone is struggling with anxiety

Mental Health First Aid

If your workplace has a Mental Health First Aider (MHFA), this is a great person to mention your concerns to. Mental Health First Aiders have been trained to spot the signs of common mental health conditions in those around them but if they don’t work closely with the person affected they might miss them.

The MHFA can then start a conversation with the person to understand why they’re struggling and what next steps need to be taken.

Mental Health First Aiders are not currently a legal requirement for businesses but they have significant benefits.

Want to become a Mental Health First Aider?

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Start a conversation

If your workplace does not yet have a Mental Health First Aider, you can start a conversation with the person who is struggling yourself. Often, the stigma attached to mental health prevents those suffering from reaching out for help – so by initiating the conversation yourself you may encourage them to open up. If you have a story of your own that you’re comfortable sharing this can be a great way to further reduce the stigma and encourage them to talk.

However, not everyone will want to talk to you so be careful to push or put pressure on them to open up. Simply let them know you’re there if they want to talk.

Ensure they take breaks

Anxiety can make people dwell on the negative parts of their life or job which only triggers more anxiety. So a good way to combat this is to help people take breaks to remove themselves from the anxiety triggers and focus on the things they enjoy.

It can be hard to enforce breaks at work, especially if it’s busy so you might want to try encouraging people to spend more time on the things they enjoy rather than trying to get them to spend less time dwelling on the bad. E.g. if the person enjoys reading, you could set up a book club amongst your colleagues to encourage more time reading outside of work rather than simply telling the person to stop thinking about the negative parts of their day.

Go for walks together

The effect that a walk outdoors can have on a person is amazing. The physical activity of walking (or doing any exercise) releases chemicals in the body that reduce stress, anxiety and depression while being outdoors has a whole raft of similar benefits triggered by increased daylight and exposure to plants.

Going on these walks together also ensures that the person will take a break from their day to do it as you’re holding them accountable. You may even find that they open up to you about their mental health during these walks being out of the office environment and away from their triggers.

Encourage them to seek support

If someone you work with is struggling with anxiety, encourage them to seek support from a mental health professional or organisation like Shawmind. Getting the right advice as early as possible can prevent mental health issues from deteriorating into a life-threatening situation.

There are several mental health organisations that offer a variety of services depending on a person’s needs. At Shawmind we have a Whatsapp number that anyone can use to get support alongside a selection of support groups including our Breathe Café and ManCave.

Important: you are not responsible for making sure a person seeks mental health support. All you can do signpost appropriate services and then leave it up to the individual to take it further.

Everyone is likely to struggle with their mental health at some point in their lives. Let’s make sure your business is able to help your employees when they’re struggling. Want more advice about looking after mental health in your workplace? Book onto one of our mental health training sessions or get in touch.

 

 

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What does mental health first aid training cover?

This April is Stress Awareness Month. With 55% of sick days in 2019/20 being directly attributable to workplace-related stress, anxiety and depression*, we wanted to look at one of the best ways to provide workplace support: by having mental health first aiders in your organisation.

To become a mental health first aider (MHFA) you need to attend an accredited course, there are several to choose from.

But what do you cover in mental health first aid training?

Knowledge of Mental Health Challenges

The first step to being able to help those in your organisation with their mental health is to have a thorough knowledge of the various mental health challenges that people face. Understanding exactly what mental health issues employees are struggling with (e.g. stress, anxiety or depression) can help you to build trust and provide appropriate support.

What factors affect mental health

Understanding what factors affect a person’s mental health and wellbeing can not only help you anticipate when someone is likely to be struggling based on their environment, but it can also help you to take preventative measures to protect their mental wellbeing in the first place. If you knew that the workforce was about to become stressed because of certain factors like deadlines or personal commitments – wouldn’t you want to do everything in your power to help them?

Identifying signs of mental health struggles

Not everyone will feel confident enough to come to you when they are struggling with their mental health so you must know what signs to look out for. By being on the lookout for these signs you can reach out to people who haven’t yet talked to you and implement tactics in the workplace to protect their mental health from deteriorating further.

How to support someone struggling with mental health

Once you’ve identified that someone in the workplace is struggling with their mental health, a large part of your role as a mental health first aider is to provide initial support and guidance. In mental health first aid training, you’ll learn how to best support individuals based on the mental health challenges they are struggling with. You will also learn about the mental health first aid action plan that you can follow for each individual who needs help with their mental health, and how to work with your colleagues to develop a workplace wellbeing plan.

Enhanced interpersonal skills

Being a mental health first aider in the workplace requires you to have strong interpersonal skills such as non-judgemental listening. This course will help you develop those skills so that your employees and/or colleagues feel comfortable talking to you about their mental health and so that you feel confident providing support.

Resources & support for individuals

As a mental health first aider, you are the first point for support and guidance. For complex or long term mental health conditions you will likely need to signpost individuals to professional resources and support services such as helplines, GPs or private therapies. During your mental health first aid training, you will be educated about the various resources that are out there and when they would be the most appropriate next step for those in your workplace. These may also be guided by your company’s wellbeing policies.

How to look after your own mental health in your MHFA role

The adage “you cannot look after anyone else if you’re not looking after yourself” rings true for mental health first aiders too. ‘Everyone has mental health’ is one of the first things you learn on the MHFA course. Just like physical health. As a mental health first aider you will be taking on the challenges that everyone else in your organisation is facing which can be emotionally draining and stressful on top of your regular work responsibilities. Our mental health first aid training will teach you how to manage your own mental health and wellbeing while carrying out your MHFA role.

 

Want to become a mental health first aider? Book onto our next training

 

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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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Teachers’ journey throughout the pandemic

What was going through your head when the first lockdown was announced? I know my first questions were ‘How long will we be in this lockdown for?’ and ‘When will I be able to see my friends again?’ But then I realized there would be some people out there that had a lot worse things to worry about, ‘Will I lose my job?’, ‘Will I be able to pay my rent this month?’, so really, I didn’t have it bad at all. But after hearing about all the children being taken out of the classroom and thrown into online learning, my thinking changed: 

‘What did our teachers have to go through?’ ‘What was is like to be a teacher during the pandemic?’ ‘How did teachers manage their wellbeing during all of this?’

 

When the first lockdown was announced

I personally heard people say negative things about teachers when the first lockdown was announced, but I think those people may have been too quick to judge. We forget sometimes that teachers are human beings just like you and me. Teachers have fears, stresses, anxiety; and they have other family members to take care of too, just like everyone else. They also don’t work the standard 9-5 that people assume they do. They start early in the morning, finish sometimes late into the evening, and even then, they take their worries and stresses about their pupils home with them. For many, teaching is a calling and not just a job.

I spoke with head teacher Kelly MacKay who, in January, was dealing with flooding in her local area, on top of her duties as head teacher of a primary school. Then, shortly after the flooding chaos, she was hit with the lockdown announcement. As head teacher, the first thing Kelly had to do was prepare the staff and parents for the pandemic. Remote learning had to be put in place, parents had to be notified of the changes that would be taking place, at the same time Kelly still had to conduct her normal head teacher duties. 60% of primary school parents across the UK later reported that they were struggling with the remote learning, so getting this system working as smoothly as possible added to the stress and pressure that Kelly, like so many other head teachers, was placed under. Not only that, but also wellbeing training had to be put in place so that the teachers could still do their job effectively and stay well mentally and emotionally. Kelly’s school managed to provide their students with remote learning within one week of the announcement. Amazing!

Switching to remote learning

After speaking with author, part-time lecturer and former head teacher David Gumbrell, I have realized that one positive thing that came from the pandemic for teachers is that the relationships between themselves and other teachers became so much stronger. There was the realization that the connectedness between staff members was what made remote learning work. They had to be resilient and work together as a team to be able to do their jobs successfully.

I think I can speak for most people when I say we all have some sort of routine we each follow day in day out. Having a routine gives us feelings of safety and security. When teachers had to go from face-to-face learning to remote learning, a whole new routine had to be created for themselves and for their students. David came up with a strategy to break up his lectures while still providing work for his students. This was so important because the students were getting the education they needed as well as having breaks in between to support their wellbeing and carry on interactively with their class. Throughout the pandemic it is so important to create strategies and routines. One strategy David kindly shared with me was simple: self-compassion. He informed other teachers that they had to take care of themselves first to be able to help and teach their students successfully. Self-compassion is composed of three parts: self-kindness, common humanity and mindfulness. These three parts mean that you are understanding and kind to yourself, you realize you aren’t the only one that feels pain and then overcoming your pain and suffering through mindfulness. Self-compassion is all about loving yourself through the pain and suffering you are feeling.

Preparation strategy

Many people have some sort of mental health related issue at some point in their lives, and teachers are no exception. So imagine how the pandemic has affected the number of those teachers who might have already been suffering with anxiety and stress for example, before the pandemic. The government provided funding for teachers to help their student’s mental health but, how are teachers supposed to provide their students with help when they themselves are struggling? We need to help our teachers with their wellbeing so that they can help their students – our next generation! It has been proven that children mirror the behaviours of their role models and those they spend a vast majority of their time with; we need our teachers to be happy and mentally & emotionally healthy so that children can mirror their positivity.

Adam Parkes, who specializes in teacher wellbeing kindly shared with me one of his strategies for helping teachers during the pandemic. He told the teachers that he works with to ‘visualize the worst-case scenario’. This may sound counter-intuitive, but everything else that then happens instead will seem like a bonus! And ‘Prepare to test positive for COVID-19.’ By following this advice, teachers could then plan and prepare to work remotely and would already have everything in place to carry on, should COVID strike.

 

Support our teachers

Steve Waters, a former teacher who is now working with schools to create strategies for teacher wellbeing, says that in a recent poll of head teachers in the UK, a staggering 47% said that they were planning to leave their jobs after the pandemic. We were already in need of teachers and the pandemic has now compounded the problem. It has really caused teachers to view their jobs in a completely different light. According to Steve, the way that schools and their results are being inspected during the pandemic really needs to be re-considered as it is driving our teachers to leave their jobs which will then have a massive negative impact on the education of our next generation.

As Adam Parkes said, ‘Don’t let our teachers feel like they are pawns in a game.’ Don’t forget that teachers are just human beings like you and me, they are going through the exact same stresses caused by the pandemic, that you and I may share, on top of giving your children and everyone else’s children the education they need and deserve.

Resilience, self-compassion, connectedness, kindness, flexibility, active listening and expecting the unexpected. These are all things teachers have had to learn and apply to their everyday life whilst still coping with the already-present stresses of the teaching. We need to support our teachers now more than ever!

Shawmind aims to train 151,000 teachers in the basics of mental health support over the next 5 years – you can help us achieve this goal!

 

 

Article written for Shawmind by Angelica Shaw

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