I’ve just completed a two-day course on delivering mental health first aid for young people and am now technically qualified as a youth mental health first aider. Hoorah!
The course included coverage of a variety of mental ill health conditions including anxiety, depression, psychosis, self-harm, suicide and eating disorders and provided us with strategies to assess, approach and implement action plans in the hopes of resolving these difficulties. We were also introduced to some fantastic resources including videos and visual representations to aid in our discussions with children. During these two days, I was also reminded of the importance of staff looking after their own mental health, too.
A great deal of important information was delivered during the course but I wanted to share a few main points that I found particularly striking or beneficial, which we should all consider:
This is a fantastic way for children and adults to consider their wellbeing. The bucket indicates our resilience to life’s stresses. Naturally, stress fills our bucket. If the bucket overflows, problems start to develop and we ‘snap’, which can occasionally lead to mental ill health conditions. If we use good coping strategies, our tap siphons the stress out. If we use bad coping strategies, our tap doesn’t work so stress fills our bucket and eventually overflows, leading us to ‘snap’. There are a range of protective factors that make our bucket bigger such as personal characteristics, parents, life events and community/societal factors. This therefore increases our resilience to anything that life throws at us.
It is well worth undertaking this activity yourself so you can see the general stresses that fill your bucket and also to consider what protective factors you utilise. This activity could be conducted practically by filling a backpack with balls or a different labeled object. You could discuss protective factors which increases the size of the bag and also explore some coping strategies to allow the stresses to flow out.
Learning The Lingo
The language used to talk about mental health must be very carefully considered. It is easy to use negatively-loaded vocabulary that can cause offence or unintentionally exacerbate the stigma regarding mental health, which is evidently quite the opposite of what we all need to be doing!
One thing that struck me as particularly interesting was the notion of using ‘mental health’ as a phrase for those who are suffering from ‘mental ill health.’ We all have mental health and this exists on a continuum from incredibly negative to incredibly positive. It is only when people are suffering from mental ill health conditions that we need to view this as something that needs to be addressed and resolved. We need to celebrate the idea of positive mental health rather than misuse it as mental ill health.
Furthermore, we need to resist declaring that people ‘are depressed’, for example. Instead, we should describe them as people who just ‘happen to have depression.’ In doing so, it allows the person to be much more than just a mental illness.
Mental ill health symptoms need to be regarded as symptoms and not behavioral choices. It is not the choice of the person to act in this way; it is the control of the condition they’re suffering with.
Mental Health Calendar
There are some peak times throughout the academic year in which children and adolescents (and indeed adults) may experience particularly high levels of stress and anxiety. These should be identified on a whole-school calendar so that all staff members can be particularly vigilant at these times. Although, this does not mean that you don’t need to be aware at other times throughout the year! Tracking children’s mental wellbeing via a questionnaire, for example, would be a great way to help notice any trends in mental health throughout the academic year. It may also be useful to do further checks on particular pupils to uncover interesting patterns about their wellbeing and mental health.
“Keeping Up An Emotional Lie Is Exhausting”
Some people don’t feel comfortable discussing their mental health for various reasons. Some who suffer may not even realise they are feeling something unusual! However, it is an incredibly draining experience. Schools need to find various ways in which they promote discussion about such matters in order to reduce this emotional burden. Awareness needs to be raised to a greater extent. Most importantly, they also need to spread hope and optimism towards recovery. Posters, assemblies and circle time can all provide opportunities to achieve a range of these aims – although I’m sure there are many more engaging ideas available.
Put Happiness On The To-Do List
We all have a ridiculous number of responsibilities to complete day in, day out. I’m sure the list is rarely ever completed and even when it is, some other task soon raises its ugly head. But when do you ever put happiness at the top of your to-do list? In order to effectively complete all the other jobs you have, you need to be in a sound, healthy mindset. Keep a record of your to-do lists and make sure that happiness is always towards the top to allow the other jobs you undertake later to be completed to the highest degree. This isn’t procrastination. Happiness is compulsory for a healthy lifestyle.
Don’t Always Demand Eye Contact
Generally, if a child doesn’t give us eye contact we instantly assume they’re being rude or not listening. Instead, consider if the child is feeling uncomfortable about what they’re discussing with you or if they just have a genuine dislike of making eye contact. Instead, you can sit beside them as you have a conversation with them with the hopes of allowing them to open up in a less confrontational manner.
The course was intense – there’s no doubt about that. However, it’s nothing compared to the hardships that those who are suffering from mental ill health have to go through. As a profession, and indeed as a society, we need to ensure we are being vigilant and open in regards to mental ill health. Most importantly, however, we need to remain hopeful and optimistic about recovery.