The Scotsman

Having a break is good for everyone’s health

Lesley Franklin hopes the trend towards prioritisi­ng mental well-being in schools continues in 2019


Christmas brings a muchneeded rest from work for all of us – but have you considered that school age children may also be benefiting from this welcome break?

We are increasing­ly hearing about the barriers to mental wellbeing faced by young people, as recent NHS Scotland figures show that over 230 children under the age of 12 have been admitted to hospital due to self-harm over the past four years.

According to the Mental Health Foundation, 10 per cent of young people (aged 5-16 years old) have a diagnosabl­e mental illness, but fewer than 25 per cent of these children receive appropriat­e treatment. It’s time to address this, at home and at school.

Increased competitio­n for top university places and career opportunit­ies mean that preparatio­n for many young people starts at an even earlier age, which can make the demands of the classroom and exam season particular­ly overwhelmi­ng.

The inescapabl­e influence of social media is also highly likely to be a factor, with constant exposure to unrealisti­c images of others’ lives contributi­ng to feelings of inadequacy.

Faced with these pressures, it’s hardly surprising that mental health problems have increased amongst the young. As educators, we have a role to play in arming our students with the tools to overcome these challenges. There are many ways that we can promote wellbeing amongst young people at school.

Teacher training Although we should not be encouragin­g teachers to attempt to diagnose mental health issues, they can be helped to spot warning signs that may indicate a student going through a crisis. A sudden change in behaviour, withdrawal or lack of engagement can all signify a wellbeing concern. By working with the young people and their parents we can empower our teachers to intervene at an early stage and catch crises before they escalate. Ending the taboo

Schools can also adopt a progressiv­e mindset to mental health issues by discussing them openly, instead of confining them to the counsellor’s office. That way, we can demonstrat­e to our students that mental health issues are common place, and that importantl­y, they can be managed by taking certain measures. This way, mental health problems don’t become terrifying – rather, they become an unpleasant but manageable fact of life. Teaching resilience Another way to promote wellbeing among young people is to equip them with the tools necessary to build resilience. Coping methods, resources and advice are all useful armour in the fight against stress, anxiety and depression. By helping students to help themselves, we can expect to see happier young people who are much better equipped to face their challenges head on.

George Heriot’s School unofficial motto is ‘work hard, be kind, be happy’ and, I believe, this helps to remind our students to look after one another and themselves. This is a mindset we are keen to encourage from an early age.

Yoga, mindfulnes­s, team building, and philosophy make up the programme of wellbeing and resilience activities we introduce during nursery and primary school years. While older students benefit from initiative­s designed to promote selfcare and emotional health, such as our pupil-led ‘Head Gardeners’

programme and ‘Love your Mind’. We also run support groups to help students manage stress and to cope with loss and bereavemen­t.

By designing systems to provide appropriat­e and targeted support to all students, schools can frame the conversati­on to be about the significan­ce of wellbeing to its own end. The impact on students can be truly transforma­tional and can have an effect not only throughout their school career, but into adulthood.

My hope for 2019 is that the trend towards prioritisi­ng mental health in schools continues, and that students are armed with the resilience they need to get out there and live fulfilling and happy lives.

Lesley Franklin, principal of George Heriot’s School

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 ??  ?? 2 By helping students to help themselves, we can expect to see happier young people, says Lesley Franklin
2 By helping students to help themselves, we can expect to see happier young people, says Lesley Franklin

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