Emotional health and wellbeing

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‘There is no health without mental health’. Mental wellbeing is more than just the absence of mental ill health. It is central to our quality of life, and protective against physical and mental illness, social inequalities, and unhealthy lifestyles. Mental wellbeing increases resilience and protective factors, and reduces risk factors, which in turn benefits broader physical and mental health. Good mental health is important for helping children & young people to develop and thrive. 

Good mental health and wellbeing doesn’t mean always being happy or unaffected by our experiences, but poor mental wellbeing can make it more difficult to cope with daily life. Our mental health and wellbeing can be affected because of situations we’re in, things we’re doing and things beyond our control, including other people, our physical health, and even the weather and world events. 

There is still stigma around talking about mental wellbeing and how we are feeling – but not talking, and not knowing what we can do to take care of our mental wellbeing and prevent problems, can make things worse.  

 

It is important to normalise conversations about emotional and mental health & wellbeing in school – creating environments where pupils, staff, and the wider school community feel comfortable to talk, not just about when things are hard, but also the things that are going well and the ways we keep ourselves well. Taking a whole school approach to mental health & wellbeing can lead to improved pupil wellbeing, and improved learning.  

Since the pandemic, mental health and emotional wellbeing in children and young people has deteriorated and become a priority issue across the UK. The cost-of-living crisis, political and environmental uncertainty add further pressure on children and their families, many of whom were already struggling. The long-term impact of COVID on children and young people is still only just beginning to show and is impacting their ability to engage with their education.  

A report by Young Minds written after the pandemic summarised the recent data on children and young people’s mental health: 

  • 1 in 6 children aged 5-16 were identified as having a probable mental health problem in 2021, an increase from 1 in 9 in 2017 (1).  
  • Sleep disorders affect 28.7% of 6–10-year-olds, 38.4% of 11–16-year-olds and 57.1% of 17–23-year-olds.  
  • 13% of 11–16-year-olds and 58.2% 17–19-year-olds have problems with eating (1). 
  • The number of A&E attendances by children under 18 with a psychiatric condition tripled between 2010-2019 (2). 
  • 83% of young people with mental health needs said that the COVID-19 pandemic made their mental health worse (3).  
  • In 2018/19 24% of 17-year-olds reported having self-harmed in the previous year (4).  
  • Suicide was the leading cause of death for males and females aged between 5 and 34 in 2019 (5).  

The pupil wellbeing survey in 2021, which included a sample of 6000 Devon pupils, showed: 

  • 88% of primary school pupils said they worried about the environment, SATs & tests, the future, problems with friends, and crime.  
  • 18% of boys and 30% of girls at primary school worried about the way they look. 
  • 37% of boys and 39% of girls in year 6 had tried to lose weight to change how they look. 
  • 36% of boys and 29% of girls in primary school had high self-esteem scores.  
  • 55% of secondary school pupils were happy with their life in general. 
  • 59% of year 8 girls and 73% of year 10 girls had tried to lose weight to change how they looked 
  • The top worries in secondary school were exams and tests, appearance, the future, schoolwork and homework, weight and size, and mental health of family members. 

What does good practice look like in school?

  • The school has a mental health and wellbeing policy that brings together other policies for related issues, such as safeguarding, anti-bullying, and SEND, to ensure all approaches are aligned. The policy includes the approach to mental health, aims to increase understanding and awareness, provides guidance to all staff in supporting pupils and other staff, provides support and guidance to pupils and parents/caregivers.  
  • Emotional/mental health and wellbeing is included within school improvement/development plans. 
  • There is a democratic pupil council (or equivalent) where the voices of all pupils are represented which frequently can discuss issues relating to emotional/mental health and wellbeing.  
  • Pupils and staff have a variety of formal and informal opportunities to provide feedback, talk about their mental health and wellbeing, share their experiences and views, and are involved in decision-making that impacts them. 
  • There is a culture and ethos that exists within school that prioritises the voice and experiences of children and young people, and proactively seeks this out and responds to it.  
  • There is awareness of local support services and resources available that may be useful for pupils and staff requiring extra support with emotional/mental health and wellbeing.  
  • Activities supporting emotional/mental health and wellbeing are integrated into everyday activities and standard practice (e.g., mindfulness, wellbeing check-ins), and a range of resources are readily available to students and staff e.g., books, reading material, posters, activities.  
  • There is a named mental/emotional health lead who is appropriately trained, and wider training and CPD is available to the whole school staff and is up to date. 
  • Emotional health and wellbeing are integrated throughout the curriculum where there are opportunities to do so and is not solely delivered as part of PSHE.  
  • Events relating to emotional/mental health and wellbeing are actively supported and promoted in school (e.g., Mental Health Awareness Week, World Mental Health Day) to normalise talking about mental health.  
  • Mental health and wellbeing is a standing agenda item at staff, governors, and senior leadership meetings.  
  • A culture exists whereby it is not only attainment that is celebrated – learning and engagement are also celebrated and rewarded.  
  • A range of activities exist for pupils that support overall wellbeing and enable pupils to try different things e.g., art, yoga, sports & movement. 
  • Designated spaces exist in school for both pupils and staff for periods of quiet and reflection and self-care activities.  
  • There is a ‘time-out’ area for pupils outside of the classroom to decompress and reflect on any issues that have arisen as an alternative to an ‘isolation room’ 
  • There are processes in place to allow new pupils, families, and staff to familiarise themselves with their school environment – particularly at key transition points. 
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