Break your arm or leg, and it’s clear to see by everyone, with allowances and support made to aid your recovery. Trip and fall, and the bruises will show that there is something not right with you. Encountering mental health issues are different – there is no physical clue for people to observe, and people can tell you to “move on” (which you really want to do), and support is really quite difficult to access.
Arguably, this is one of the most important #UKEdChat sessions so far, as we focus upon Mental Health issues for all members of a school community.
The session explored:
- General Mental Health – stigmas, barriers and opening conversations.
- Students – A focus on the boys.
- Students – A focus on the girls.
- Staff – A focus on female teaching staff.
- Staff – A focus on male teaching staff.
- Staff – A focus on leaders and managers.
- Families – A focus on talking about mental health issues with the families of pupils.
Before beginning it should be noted that participants have discussed a broad umbrella of health issues, from exhaustion, work-related stress, clinical depression and much more, and the hour devoted to this topic simply was not enough time to do it justice.
The UKEdChat discussion began with a general ‘health check’ of the level of openness and understanding of mental health in that chatters had encountered in their schools. Generally, the tweets pointed to that fact that the matter is rarely discussed, and when it is, the support is often poor. Many people suggested various ways to combat stress-related mental health issues which the school can do to attempt to mitigate some issues, but other participants responded that some mental health issues cannot be mitigated and complete unconditional support is what is needed once an episode is underway. Yet, de-stigmatising mental health issues are crucial and many people said that there needs to be a greater understanding of what mental health is.
The discussion turned to the mental health of students and we asked separately about boys and girls. A number of Chatters voiced that they felt that there were no differences between the genders. Others said that they were concerned about the lack of support for boys with eating disorders. It is interesting to note that different people independently voiced different reasons why each of the genders felt less able to seek help, boys because it showed weakness, and girls because of peer pressure. Many UKEdChatters felt it was important not to label pupils, while others said that a diagnosis and assessment was the first step to helping pupils. One chatter thought that none of this was the concern of the school, as it was a health issue and should be handled solely by health professionals. There was lots of tweets about positive role models and talking about mental health issues to ‘normalise’ them in society. Most participants seemed to suggest that each situation is different and therefore the individual needs of the pupil, whether male or female, need to be addressed.
Much of these points were repeated when talking about the mental health of staff. A number of participants stated that they themselves had issues with various aspects of mental health. A few people wanted to highlight the neurochemical aspects of conditions like depression and how this is very different from simply being very stressful and busy in one’s job. Many UKEdChatter once again felt that talking and making mental health and open topic within schools, yet not one participant stated that they felt their school was fully able to support colleagues in this area and clearly much more training and work needs to be done. This was a very busy and fascinating part of the discussion and I recommend reading the archive of tweets. The discussion briefly moved on to discussing the particular needs of senior leaders. Once again, the idea that talking about mental health issues was a sign of weakness in senior positions. It was also mentioned that leaders may feel there are fewer people to talk to at their own level and above.
The last part of the discussion was able supporting families with pupils who need support with mental health issues. The main focus was on making schools a place where open dialogue and be good at communication with the pupil, family and other professionals.
This discussion only scratched the surface of a very complex, yet important issue. Supporting individuals with mental health issues isn’t something which will be completely in place overnight, but it is something which every school and member of staff needs to make a priority now and improve the strategies, practices, but most importantly, the culture around mental health.
Archive, Download -> Session 343 A focus on Mental Health