Safe from Harm

This month’s blog delves into the importance of a positive whole school ethos around mental health and that it is our statutory duty to do so.

I had planned to write about how, as a mental health lead, we can help teachers who do not ‘get it’ – mental health that is. However, what I have noticed over the last few weeks is there is a bigger problem to tackle. There is a misconception that by mentioning or talking about mental health we will give students the notion that they too have a mental health difficulty. Just like when we talk about the last occasion we broke our arm, when we talk about it, more students want to break their own arm – right? Nope!

This is what mental health stigma looks like in schools; supress talking about it and it will not be a problem. An approach like this creates an environment where it is not ok to talk about our mental health and leads to feelings of shame and worthlessness. The added challenge with this approach is that students will find ways of dealing with their difficulties themselves in ways that are not always healthy and safe.

Almost every school I have worked with has asked students to complete an annual survey when they are asked whether they feel safe. In this context it is usually whether the student feels they are protected from harm i.e. that they are free from bullying, they feel physically safe within the building, children with allergies are catered for and so on. In these cases, most students do feel safe and protected and schools have policies and rigorous processes which ensure this happens almost all of the time.

However, do we ask our students in the survey about what the school does to encourage and support their well-being and prosperity?

Do we follow the Keeping Children Safe in Education (KCSIE) statutory guidance (2018) which is:

All schools are under a statutory duty to promote [synonym: encourage, support, foster] the welfare [synonym: well-being, prosperity] of their pupils, which includes preventing impairment of children’s health or development, and taking action to enable all children to have the best outcomes.

So, if we are not talking about mental health for fear of things getting worse, we are actually creating an unsafe environment for students where their well-being is not being supported, and we are not performing our statutory duty to prevent the impairment of health.

Taking action to promote a culture where students can talk about their mental health, prevent any difficulties from getting worse and seek support from adults is our statutory duty.

Here are 5 top tips and resources to help you take action:

  1. Poster displays of local services to support mental health difficulties
  2. A one-page section on the school’s website which sets out the school’s approach to mental health, how it is promoted in school and further sources of support which students and parents might need
  3. Regular assemblies on maintaining good mental health i.e. getting enough sleep, eating well, exercising, talking about how we feel (see resources below)
  4. Include literacy texts which deal with mental health (see resources below)
  5. Create well-being and mental health leadership roles for students within the school council structure

Here are my recommended reads which will help you start the conversations in assemblies and lessons.

Primary Schools:

https://www.annafreud.org/what-we-do/schools-in-mind/resources-for-schools/we-all-have-mental-health-animation-teacher-toolkit/

Silly Billy by Anthony Browne

Billy worries obsessively about everything until Grandma suggests that worry dolls might help him to cope better. This book takes a sensitive and gentle approach to dealing with childhood anxiety. Many of Browne’s other books are also good for supporting discussion around emotions.

The Huge Bag of Worries by Virginia Ironside and Frank Rodgers

Jenny carries a huge bag of worries with her wherever she goes and is desperate for someone to help her. This book shows children that a problem shared is a problem halved.

Black Dog by Levi Pinfold

The youngest and bravest member of the Hope family is the only person who tames the Black Dog, a metaphor for depression, which grows bigger and bigger each time you try to ignore it. A particularly useful book for children who live with parents with mental health problems.

Secondary Schools:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SE5Ip60_HJk – The Stand Up Kid – Time to Change: https://www.time-to-change.org.uk/about-us/what-are-we-doing/children-and-young-people

https://www.annafreud.org/what-we-do/schools-in-mind/resources-for-schools/talking-mental-health-animation-teacher-toolkit/

Wonder by R.J. Palacio

An astonishingly moving book and now a major film, there are many meaningful messages to be taken away from Wonder; from being brave and standing up for yourself to understanding that it’s not your circumstances that determine your happiness, but your outlook and attitude.

The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time by Mark Haddon

Christopher is an intelligent youth who lives in the functional hinterland of autism–every day is an investigation for him because of all the aspects of human life that he does not quite get. When the dog next door is killed with a garden fork, Christopher becomes quietly persistent in his desire to find out what has happened and tugs away at the world around him until a lot of secrets unravel messily.