Teachers will be wondering what they can do to support pupil’s mental health and wellbeing as children return to school. In the past few months, we have been undertaking research in relation to our new program, LINK_UP. This will help us to better understand the impact of Covid-19 on young people’s mental health. In this blog, we explore how educators can help young people during these uncertain and unprecedented times.
Supporting Young People’s Mental Health during Covid- 19
The impact of Covid- 19 has also led many to worry about young people’s mental health. Several young people in our survey reported that Covid-19 had a positive impact as they spent more time with family. However, Covid-19 has disrupted many lives dramatically. Some young people might have felt isolated, fearful about academic progress, and negatively impacted by disruptions to their normal routine. In particular, young people in our survey noted the feeling of loneliness and a fear that they might have lost friends or friendship groups over the course of lockdown.
According to a YoungMinds survey, 41% of young people said that the pandemic had made their mental health much worse. Furthermore, 26% of young people who had been receiving some form of mental health support leading up to the crisis said that they were no longer able to access support.
For some of the most vulnerable young people, key centres of refuge were closed to the public. A report by the National Youth Agency has identified the rise in child- grooming in relation to gangs. The report states that there are concerns that ‘gangs are also using lockdown as cover for a ‘recruitment drive’ from among young people with vulnerabilities heightened during lockdown’.
Young People’s Mental Health and Back to School
With lockdown easing, it is important to support young people in the transition back to the ‘new normal’. Some students may struggle with the uncertainty and restrictions about contact with friends within their school. Some may be concerned that they are falling behind, or currently grieving a familial loss. With all this in mind, it remains important to support young people as they navigate these emotions. PSHE remains a prime place to discuss mental health and wellbeing.
What Mental Health Topics does PSHE cover?
The Department for Education’s statutory guidance regarding PSHE states that ‘young people are increasingly experiencing challenges…The new subject content will give them the knowledge and capability to take care of themselves and receive support if problems arise.’
It is clear that a well-planned approach to PSHE is vital when teaching young people about mental health. PSHE topics related to mental health involves:
- Helping young people develop resilience and coping mechanisms
- Tackling mental health related stigma
- Guiding young people to the right places to disclose issues and communicate with others
Guidance for Primary PSHE and Mental Health
The Department for Education highlights how PSHE in Primary Schools sets the foundations for discussions about mental health. Statutory guidance states that primary pupils should ‘know mental wellbeing is a normal part of daily life, in the same way as physical health’. Primary PSHE educators should explore how we can contribute to other people’s mental wellbeing. Primary students should also understand the relationship between mental and physical health. Moreover, primary students should learn about the ‘range of emotions’ they can experience, and how to discuss these emotions.
Guidance for Secondary PSHE and Mental Health
In secondary school, PSHE educators should help young people to understand how to talk about their emotions accurately and sensitively, and that they can experience complex and multiple emotions at once. Within Secondary PSHE, there is an increased focus on how to recognise early signs of mental health concerns. These early signs include mood swings, isolation, sleep problems, and difficulty concentrating. Moreover, secondary students should learn about different types of mental health issues and explore the complex differences between these issues.
Creating a Safe, Learning Environment
When teaching PSHE topics, it is vital to create a safe, learning environment which acts as a space for communication and discussion. In our survey, 62.3% of young people preferred to discuss wellbeing in a small group of 6 pupils. Meanwhile, only 11.3% of young people preferred to discuss this topic individually. Furthermore, 56.6% preferred to learn about a PSHE topic through a class discussion. In comparison, 22.6% preferred to work individually on a laptop or computer.
At Round Midnight, our Theatre in Education performances and innovative tech for good programs include follow up workshops. These workshops are where debate and discussion can encourage a shift in mindset or thinking about challenging topics.
Signpost Key Information and Areas for Extra Support
To ensure young people don’t turn to less reputable sources of information, it is vital that educators guide students to the correct places to go for support. Have an open conversation about the current situation and what it means to them, correcting inaccurate information about the pandemic.
Furthermore, encourage young people to talk to each other about their experiences during the pandemic and signpost sources of support. This needs to be clear, and educators need to be transparent about the types of support young people will get. They should also discuss the wider implications of asking for support versus avoiding it.
Educators should recommend in-school sources of support, emphasising that teachers are available to talk. However, educators should also discuss anonymous support such as Childline, YoungMinds, and Samaritans.
By making support easily accessible, and communicating sources of support in a clear fashion, PSHE educators can stop young people feeling alone and forgotten.
Age-Appropriate PSHE Content
Within the statutory guidance, DfE makes it clear that schools have the flexibility to plan age-appropriate subject content related to their pupils’ specific needs. Whilst Primary School PSHE is about laying the foundations of a young person’s understanding of mental wellbeing, it is important to consider this on a case by case basis. For instance, if your community is struggling with a rise in knife crime, and this can be seen in the experiences of primary school children, then it might be important to cover these topics sensitively and appropriately in primary school. This ensures that learning is not left too late and PSHE can serve as an early- intervention tool.
If educators believe that a particular cohort may find the transition to secondary school particularly challenging, then it may be worth discussing healthy self- care techniques. In the same vein, secondary schools may feel that pupils are not prepared for secondary PSHE topics so may want to reiterate the basics of mental health.
We are experts in tackling challenging topics. Whatever the age group, we adapt our methods and workshops to best suit the school’s requirements, and ensure topics are handled sensitively. For instance, in the past, we have effectively delivered interactive Primary workshops on equality and diversity.
Supporting Mental Health throughout the School Community
PSHE will only work as part of a holistic strategy to tackle mental health issues within the school. The school environment should encourage positive emotional wellbeing, not just within the student body, but with staff and parents too.
When students feel actively involved in the mental health policies and school environment, they are more likely to feel heard and understood.
Here are some ideas for ways to provide alternate spaces for students to voice their concerns:
- Mental Health Awareness Group: Pupils from varying year groups can meet and discuss these issues in a safe environment with peers that they trust, and even help to implement changes into the school.
- Personal check- ins with students with a history of mental illness.
- Break-out spaces for young people when they feel overwhelmed.
- Opportunities to voice changes anonymously that students believe could make a positive difference to their emotional mindset.
As students have now returned to school, schools must consider how they rethink or adapt key parts of daily school life. For example, amidst uncertainty and confusion, a consistent structure and routine within the school might help children transition back to a full school day.
Moreover, easing young people into learning may help prevent overload. Schools may want to consider providing much needed social time with friends without an immediate return to the academic pressure many experienced before lockdown. Increasing enriching activities such as PE, Art and Music will help students to interact with each other again and focus on calming activities outside of grades and assessments.
Staff should have access to training and a support system that will allow them both to feel comfortable supporting young people’s mental wellbeing, and safe in the knowledge that their own wellbeing is being noticed.
Within PSHE, there are topics that teachers might feel untrained for. For instance, topics such as eating disorders and child grooming where teachers might feel anxious that they are doing more harm than good.
We offer CPD teacher training focused on introducing creative methods into teaching practices. These new techniques help teachers who are teaching challenging subjects as it allows them to approach learning in a different way, engaging pupils as much as possible.
What happens at school feeds into home life, and vice versa. Therefore, schools should inform parents about the topic of mental health and Covid-19. Furthermore, parents should have access to support that can help them deliver effective parenting. At Round Midnight, we can offer sessions with parents discussing how best to broach difficult conversations with their children. Alongside this, we run self- development and confidence building workshops for parents. This aims to improve the wellbeing of the parents, encouraging a knock on effect within the family structure.
Round Midnight and Wellbeing in PSHE
The Covid-19 pandemic is likely to have a lasting impact. Therefore, it is important that schools recognise the role they play in supporting young people’s mental health. PSHE not only increases young people’s knowledge of mental health but develops key skills that help pupils build emotional resilience and empathy.
As part of the research stage of LINK_UP, a digital platform, we are researching the impact of Covid-19 on young people. If you would like to learn more about this project please click here, or get in touch for more information.