Mental health awareness is crucial in the school setting.
To a greater or lesser degree, trouble seems to be present in most people’s lives from the very young on up.
Dealing with emotion and stress is often left to the individual and arriving at something that works can be a somewhat mysterious, lonely process.
But these coping skills can be taught and if that is done early an individual will become better at dealing with big emotions, recognising when others are experiencing emotional turbulence and freeing up their minds for learning.
Mental health awareness is in the school environment is vital – the parts of brains that are needed to be active to learn and engage with education get switched off when we are emotionally activated.
“Everyone – especially children – experiencing big emotions, distress, and other mental health symptoms can find it really challenging to master new knowledge. Having an awareness of mental health means creating spaces where people can be in the best possible position to learn and enjoy education,” says Asha Zappa the Mental Health Promotion and Program Manager with WayAhead.
Learning about mental health from a young age ensures that as kids grow up, they have an awareness of what they’re going through, and understanding and compassion toward others. It helps young people know when and how to seek help, either for themselves or others. It also helps kids grow into adults with helpful coping skills.
“Demystifying mental health goes a long way to dispelling stigma, both towards others and towards self.
“And there are a great many kids and young people who have a parent with a mental illness, so learning about mental health in the classroom can help these kids feel supported and understood when so often they feel isolated,” says Zappa.
Schools can make a small investment but reap big results in the mental health of the school body.
First, the Department of Education has created some great resources using WayAhead’s Mental Health Month information for schools, teachers, students, and communities, including daily action calendars.
Creating an action plan for your school that addresses not only mental health information but also mental health stigma can be a great way to embed practices and create schools that have a commitment to mental health.
Stigma can easily be challenged through things like changing the name of ‘crazy sock day’ to ‘silly sock day’ – making a conscious effort not to use language that stigmatises mental illness is important.
There are also free resources that can be helpful. Dan Siegel, for example, is a world leader in understanding children’s mental health, and his talks are informative and easy to understand.
Taking a trauma-informed approach can also make a difference, even for people who have not experienced trauma.
Blue Knot Foundation has a range of excellent free resources.
It’s beneficial to involve people with lived experience – any new program or action plan can be enhanced by engaging people with lived experience to help schools better understand their needs and how to make a safe, mentally health school.
Often mental health challenges can present as behavioural challenges, which can make it difficult to recognise. Keeping this in mind can help educators come from a place of understanding and compassion and help to give students the support they need.
The WayAhead Small Steps program can help educators recognise the ways that anxiety disorders can manifest in children and learn more about providing support.
“If a student is facing challenges, creating a village of support around them, using school counsellors and available departmental resources, not only helps the student, but can help educators too,” says Zappa.
How Educators can Support Mental Health in Their Workplace
Challenge the stigma! WayAhead has an ‘Ally Pack’ co-created by people with lived experience that can really help people learn more about being a mental health ally.
Consciously making mental health a priority, not just in the classroom but in the whole school community, can help to reduce that stigma we know exists.
Originally published as Mental Health Education Should Start Young on https://www.educationtoday.com.au/