Over half of teenage girls are suffering from mental health issues, and poor mental health among young people (aged 16 and 17) has increased by more than a quarter since 2017. These are the findings of a November 2022 study of Year 12-13 students in the UK by the COVID Social Mobility & Opportunities (COSMO), which also reported that 51% of the 13,000 young people surveyed are less motivated to study and learn as a result of the pandemic.
Half of the students from comprehensive or grammar schools in the study rated their school’s mental health support as “not very good” or “not at all good” compared to just a quarter of those attending independent schools.
It is evident that the pandemic is still taking its toll on UK students’ mental health and, with the long wait lists for care, there is pressure on schools and parents to support students in need.
We speak with Victoria Hearn, Principal at Impington Village College and Impington International College, and Louisa Rose, co-founder of the Now and Beyond mental health festival for schools, to look at what schools need to do to create a culture of wellbeing for 2023 – and how parents can help to manage their child’s mental health over the school holidays.
Victoria Hearn is Principal at Impington Village College and Impington International College, which has been awarded the Gold Status School Mental Health Award by Carnegie Centre of Excellence for Mental Health in recognition of its continuous commitment to outstanding mental health and wellbeing provision.
Ms Hearn has this advice for parents:
“Try to keep some normality in your routine, and plenty of ‘down time’, as well as planning out key events in advance, especially for anxious children. At Christmas expectations can be very high all round, with lots of pressure for enjoyment. Focusing on smaller things, family time and not making too much of a fuss can help to make the Christmas period more manageable.”
Louisa Rose, founder of Now and Beyond and CEO of Beyond, adds:
"Showing your child your own vulnerability goes a long way to helping them feel comfortable to express their own innermost feelings and worries. School holidays can signal a shift in routine which for some, can leave them feeling out of control. Create space for your child to open up to you.
“We call the ability to listen and empathise without trying to 'fix' the issue active listening which is key to helping your child to feel supported and therefore willing to share. But also empower yourself with the knowledge of available support so that you can be a source of helpful information for your child. There is a free mental health support service called Shout which is a lifeline for many young people. Your child can text BEYOND to 85258 for free, 24/7 text based mental health support."
Impington College has a strong focus on pastoral and mental wellbeing support for its students, with in-house mentoring programmes, YMCA counselling, contact time with the school chaplain or counsellor, and access to staff trained in areas such as adolescent mental health, mindfulness and cognitive behavioural therapy.
Ms Hearn at Impington says:
“Schools are under lots of pressure with resources but there is no doubt that mental health and wellbeing are a huge priority. Each school will have its own systems and support networks in place, with key staff responsible for pastoral care. I would strongly encourage parents to be proactive and contact the school early where concerns are identified, as it is far easier for the school to access help and put support in place before crisis point is reached.
“Mental health should be embedded into the curriculum as a standard; at the College we have dedicated assemblies, focus days, lessons and external events where mental health, wellbeing, social and emotional skills and values are explicitly taught by teachers trained to deliver these materials using interactive methods and resources."
Youth mental health charity Beyond organises an annual mental health and wellbeing festival for schools, Now and Beyond. The festival was launched in 2021 in response to the pandemic’s impact on the mental health of students in the UK – and it continues to address gaps in a mental health system that Beyond says is “failing our youth”. It will take place again in February 2023 to offer free mental health support and resources to parents, students and teachers.
Louisa is looking to start “a mental health revolution in our schools and colleges”.
“We want schools to adopt a whole-school wellbeing culture from the moment that young people enter the school system, not just give 10 minutes in the weekly timetable to mental health. That’s not enough,” explains Louisa.
“There’s no downside to continually helping to provide people with the language they need to express themselves. My generation has not been equipped with this emotional literacy but, a child can name what it is that they’re experiencing in a very age appropriate way, we can hopefully mitigate the sort of crisis that we’re seeing at the moment.”
Ms Hearn at Impington has this advice for parents.
“Students are always more motivated to take part in activities that they enjoy, which is why we offer a robust co-curricular programme, iCAS Xtra, which gives our students access to more than 40 different activities each week. By helping our students to identify and access activities that they enjoy, whether that be volunteering, sporting or creative, they are encouraged to learn for pleasure, which promotes a balance between academic excellence and wider achievement.
"By dedicating time to your children’s hobbies and leisure activities, you can foster a sense of accomplishment and enjoyment that helps them to develop their enthusiasm in other areas of their studies.
“It sounds obvious but students engage more with their learning if they believe in its importance. Establishing a structure and routine can encourage engagement with learning, while a dedicated study space outside of the bedroom separates learning from relax time.”