Supporting Mental Health in Schools

One of the largest mental health trials in the world has been launched this week by Education Secretary Damian Hinds, as part of Children’s Mental Health Week 2019.

The trials will test five different approaches including; raising awareness in secondary schools through short information sessions led by a specialist instructor or trained teachers, exercises drawn from mindfulness practice, breathing exercises and muscle relaxation techniques and recognising the importance of support networks including among their own peers. 

Mr Hinds said: “Schools and teachers don't have all the answers, nor could they, but we know they can play a special role which is why we have launched one of the biggest mental health trials in schools.”

The trial is being led by the Anna Freud National Centre for Children and Families in partnership with University College London. Dr Jessica Deighton has said, "This world leading research has the potential to transform mental health promotion in schools across England."

Why Is The Trial So Important?

The world is changing at a rate that many young people are struggling to keep up with. Recent research conducted by University College London discovered that teenage girls are twice as likely as teenage boys to exhibit symptoms of depression due to social media. Indeed social media use, in addition to the existing pressures of school and everyday life, seems to be a significant contributor to teenage mental health.

The Princes Trust this week have published their Youth Index for 2019, a national survey of 16-25 year olds that looks at young people’s happiness and confidence across a range of areas, from working life to mental and physical health. They found nearly half of young people feel ‘inadequate’ and more anxious about their future when comparing their lives to their friends on social media and over half say they ‘always feel anxious’ and put too much pressure on themselves to succeed.

Nick Stace, UK Chief Executive of The Prince’s Trust, has said, “It appears that in the last 12 months nothing has happened to improve the way young people are feeling about their lives. Young people are critical to the future success of this country, but they’ll only realise their full potential if they believe in themselves and define success in their own terms.”

The Office of National Statistics this week published the news that the suicide rate among 15 to 19-year-olds in England has nearly doubled in eight years to more than five in 100,000. Early intervention and support strategies for young people in the school system are therefore more crucial in our society than ever before.

#Focus5 Secondary School Pilot Scheme

#Focus5 have begun a pilot scheme this year to help young people in schools who are at risk of NEET (not in education, employment or training), to recognise how to improve their mental health and make the right decisions for their further education or careers.

We feel this could be a valuable service to young people who may have been focused on achieving GCSE results without appreciating what the future could hold for them. Equally, they may be struggling with mental health, confidence or self-esteem for a number of different reasons and whilst #Focus5 key workers are not qualified mental health practitioners, we are very good at helping young people to open up and talk - which is a crucial first step to identifying positive ways forward.

Interestingly, the majority of young people we are meeting who are most at risk of NEET and struggling are girls rather than boys.

We are trialling this approach in a handful of secondary schools working in partnership with the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP), who are also the managing authority for the England European Social Fund programme, who co-fund #Focus5.

Debbie Barsby, School Support Adviser for DWP in Somerset and Gloucester has said, “I am very pleased with how the first sessions have gone and look forward to working with #Focus5 to help deliver the remainder of the pilot programme.”

The group sessions are spread over 6 weeks and include some initial self-assessment, mind mapping and motivational work, followed by some of the following activities:

  • About Me - Will look at confidence building, self-esteem and identifying strengths, goals and outcomes.
  • CV & Digital Skills - Will include producing a CV, creating an email account, opening a bank account, and other digital skills.
  • Future - Will look at where young people want to be, using spider graphs and mind mapping. Sharing information about apprenticeships, job searching, traineeships, college and ad-hoc courses.
  • Life Skills - Will include communication techniques, resilience training, healthy relationships, customer service skills, self-esteem, coping with anxiety, building confidence, overcoming barriers and life skills.
  • 1:1 Session - Each participant will then get a 1:1 session with the key worker to complete a survey, look at applications for courses or employment, do further work on removing barriers to engagement and reducing any anxiety, doing another self-assessment and preparing for the future.

If you know of any young people aged 15-18 who could benefit from what #Focus5 have to offer please get in touch or refer them via our online referral form.

The #Focus5 project is funded by the European Social Fund and The National Lottery Community Fund.