Addressing young peoples’ mental health: it all starts with teachers

Justyn Randall

Wednesday, 10 October 2018

The theme of this year’s World Mental Health Day, which we observe today, is ‘young people and mental health in a changing world’.

The time is right to focus on children. With recent figures showing the colossal increase in UK child mental health referrals in recent times, and a quarter not receiving the support they need, there’s obviously a problem looking for a solution beyond current measures. 

While bullying and exam-related pressures have always existed, social media has intensified the issues that children face, whether that’s being ostracised by peer groups or suffering from feelings of poor self-worth.

Societies that fail to protect their young people from experiencing poor mental health can only be storing up problems for the future. According to the National Audit Office there were 40,161 incidents of self-harm in prisons and 120 self-inflicted deaths in 2016. Both figures showed increases on previous years, suggesting a commensurate rise in mental illness.

Across the UK as a whole, suicide is the biggest cause of death for young people under 35.


Those who are homeless also display higher instances of mental illness, being nine times more likely to take their own lives and with almost half (44%) suffering from mental health. 

 

How should we as a society stop so many potentially valuable lives being wasted? There’s a growing understanding that teaching children how to cope with the digital lives they now live, while building higher levels of resilience, must be a key element of the curriculum.

 


To quote Hans Rosling, we can spend an age chasing after those who are already ill - or combat poor health at its source. That applies to mental health as well as physical illness. 

Recognising this, the Department of Education announced this year that from September 2020, children must be taught about:

  • Good mental health
  • The significance of good relationships with friends and family
  • Being physically healthy (which improves mental wellbeing)

But it’s important to recognise that mental health affects us all - and is a direct result of stress in the workplace and/or at home. To tackle child mental health at source, we also need to make sure we have happy and empowered teachers there to support them. 

As we’ve learned from our insights into the motivators of almost 1,000 teachers, they often don’t feel equipped to deal with students’ mental health, simply because they haven’t achieved a healthy mental state themselves. The number of teachers considering leaving their jobs is rising as a result, creating a huge headache for head teachers who are concerned about rapid turnover in their teams.

One of the reasons we established Opogo was to help teachers combat poor mental health by advancing their own skill sets, as well as those of students, to help them better cope and thrive in modern day education. 

The Opogo #TeachFit programme shows teachers how to focus on child wellness and mental health, for example, whether that’s running yoga sessions in the classroom or teaching mindfulness.


And the Opogo community itself seeks to address the loneliness and isolation that many teachers feel, while providing the tools they need to work smarter and reduce stress. This includes world-class e-learning and CPD, while engaging each of our user groups with relevant and bespoke content, from classroom behaviour management and STEM advice to practical career development.

Our Opogo community comprises expert speakers sharing their knowledge through rich content online and in our app, as well as running weekly development workshops in person.

The fact that we run regular mindfulness and fitness sessions for our own staff, along with providing skills development and inhouse mental health first aiders, shows that we genuinely believe in this kind of positive intervention.

Work-life balance, flexibility and empowerment are key to a happy team and a productive and motivated workforce. That’s what Opogo is all about. This World Mental Health Day, I encourage all schools and academic institutions to take their first steps towards bettering staff mental health as well as helping them teach young people how to cope in our fast-changing world.

Get in touch to see how we can support you at hello@opogo.com.

 

Opogo is a community platform designed to help schools attract and retain the talent that’s right for them. Our social hub is packed with rich content from our community experts. And through our ever-evolving Smart Match technology, teachers can be booked for work simply and quickly.

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