Supporting students in being more open about mental health to prepare for their future
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One in eight young people under 19 will experience a mental health problem; that’s 3 people in every classroom.
Whilst we have come a long way in changing the way we are all talking about mental health and mental illness, there is still more to be done. Young people have told us that they experience negative reactions and stigma in their daily lives, from their friends, family, at school, at work and in their communities. More than half said it stopped them hanging out with friends.
Promoting a school environment where students feel they can talk openly about the topic of mental health without fear of judgement is extremely important. Supporting students to tackle stigma and creating a more open school environment has many benefits. We know that if students feel their emotional wellbeing is being prioritised, they are better able to engage in learning and reach their full potential. Many of the skills needed for this will serve students not just in being more open about mental health problems and wellbeing but also in building valuable skills for their futures. If young people start to recognise and build a toolkit of coping strategies, they will then recognise any signs as they move through working life so they can apply them.
This will enable young people to grow up with the skills and confidence to be open and supportive with their colleagues and, creates more inclusive workplaces in the future. As young people grow into adulthood they face many changes and challenges. Building the right skills today can support young people to grow up knowing that it is ok to ask for help if they need to and that looking after their mental health is just as important as looking after their physical health.
Like LifeSkills, our work aims to equip this generation with the skills and confidence to create a future where people are free of fear and have equal opportunities in all areas of life.
Classroom tips for boosting mental health awareness:
Develop the skills that can help to build a stigma free future
We need to encourage young people to speak out about their own experiences with mental health problems and emotional wellbeing. Support your students to campaign in their communities and to create campaign groups at school. This will help to build their confidence and show others that speaking out isn’t a sign of weakness and that it is ok to ask for help and support.
Listening can be more significant than talking. Help your students to learn to listen, not judge. It’s important to remember that sometimes just being there and being understanding makes all the difference. Learning how to listen without judgement is an important skill and will serve young people as they move through life. Organise a session in which students can practice non-judgmental listening. This could be done in pairs and then students report back what they learned to the class.
You don’t have to be an expert to talk about mental health, you just have to care. When we ask ‘how are you?’ often we get the usual and expected response ‘fine thanks’. Our research shows nearly 9 in 10 young people would say they are ‘fine’ even if they are struggling with their mental health. Creating a culture in the classroom of asking twice – ‘are you sure you’re ok?’ The simple act of asking again, with interest, shows a genuine willingness to talk and listen.
LifeSkills has a Wellbeing toolkit to help action these ideas which can be used across the curriculum or in focused mental health lessons.
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