UK Festival Tackles Mental Health in Schools

A mental health festival for more than 1,000 schools and colleges across the UK takes place next week during Children’s Mental Health Week.
UK Festival Tackles Mental Health in Schools
By Carli Allan
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A UK mental health and wellbeing festival for schools, Now and Beyond, will be held for its second year next Wednesday (February 9). More than 1,000 state and independent schools in the UK are expected to take part in the online event, which offers free mental health support and resources to parents, students and teachers.

Mindfulness classes will be held in a converted American school bus dubbed the Zen Den; clowning, yoga and surfing workshops will take place across the country; there'll be lesson plans with plenty of slime and glitter; and live sessions with CBBC star Dr Ranj, Joe Wicks, Kate Silverton and Carrie Grant. It’s all organised by the youth mental health charity Beyond, and it takes place during Children’s Mental Health Week from February 7 to 13.

The Now and Beyond 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”. 1 in 6 young people have a diagnosable mental health problem (NHS Digital), and 75% of young people are currently not receiving any treatment. According to the Education Policy Institute (EPI) and the Prince’s Trust, the number of young people with a probable mental illness rose from one in nine in 2017 to one in six in 2021.

Co-founder of Now & Beyond Louisa Rose says that the festival will continue to give youth mental health the spotlight it deserves in light of the ongoing pressures caused by Covid-19.

“We’re seeing an uptake in social harm in children as young as eight years old. There are record numbers of students being referred to CAMHs (Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services) – one school referred 45 students in a three month period – and there’s increased anxiety. We know that CAMHS can’t cope, and we need a joined-up approach that connects schools with local external experts who can easily be brought in to help.”

Hosted online, the festival will feature live streamed events on themes including supporting LGBTQ+ teens, racial inequality and mindfulness; schools can also download free lesson plans focused on kindness, gratitude or resilience for KS1–4. The event is also targeted at helping parents and teachers, with a How to Parent Post-Pandemic panel with Lorraine Candy and broadcast journalist Kate Silverton, as well as a teacher wellbeing session with the Anna Freud Centre.

Last year's Beyond Festival was joined by 1,200 schools in the UK

“It’s that idea of putting on your own oxygen mask before your child’s; it’s the same for teacher and parent wellbeing. We’re acutely aware of the pressures that teachers are facing, the challenges and the lack of time and resources that they have," says Louisa.

"Because student wellbeing has deteriorated so much, referrals to the mental health service have increased. All these young people are still expected to go to school, and the teachers are still expected to pick up the pieces and be carers, counsellors and social workers as well.

“Parenting is tough too, especially during a pandemic. Without teachers and parents looking out for their own mental health, they’ll find it much more challenging to look after the mental health of children.”

So far, more than 1,000 UK schools have signed up for the festival’s mental health seminars, workshops and support on February 9, including the all-boys University College School Pre Prep in London. The school plans to take part in the festival’s live sponsored mindful moment, warm-up with Joe Wicks, and teacher wellbeing workshop – and Headmistress Zoe Dunn explains why.

“It’s fundamental that we focus on mental health and wellbeing all the time, but an event like this festival helps to draw parents’ attention to what the school is doing. It’s so good to have an event that is bespoke for schools, offers quality resources for teachers, and is something tangible that we can signpost parents to. As a virtual event, it can engage such a wide audience across the country, and the children love the sense that we are all doing this together.

“We’re an all-boys schools and for me it’s fundamental that they learn how to identify, then how to discuss, and how to regulate their emotions. Research shows that boys are not always able to talk openly about their emotions, and we want this to become an embedded part of their wellbeing. I always tell parents that it’s like learning to read; if you don’t lay the foundations now, then they won’t be able to express their emotions or concerns intuitively later.”

Improving youth mental health in the UK

Louisa Rose, Co-founder of Now & Beyond

Louisa, a mother of two, is passionate about Beyond’s vision to change the way the UK approaches mental health education, and she is driven to make an “attitudinal change”. Inspired to set up the festival after facing her own struggles with mental health at a young age and into adulthood, Louisa leads with both her head and her heart.

“My mental health has always been a challenge for me to maintain. My adolescence brought with it some triggering events that ultimately resulted in a diagnosis of depression and anxiety, and a journey that included medication and therapy. Just because I’m a mum now doesn’t mean my own mental health issues have gone away. It just means that I have to look after them more consciously because in order to be my best self for my kids, I need to be my best self for me.

“We have a growth mindset approach to parenting, and we encourage our children to name their feelings. But I wish there was a manual because beyond that; I'm stuck along with every other parent I know.”

With Louisa’s heartfelt determination – and the support of volunteers and a 350-plus strong army of mental health experts and speakers – Beyond is achieving its goals. After being planned in just five months during a period of school closures and national lockdown, the first Now & Beyond festival became a national event that reached almost 500,000 people. Teachers “jumped at the opportunity” that the festival provided them, and many schools scrapped their usual timetabling to make space for activities during the day.

Beyond has built a national network of mental health services for young people (these providers will deliver free workshops at the festival to schools in their local areas) and it has created the first UK online database to connect educators with mental health provisions.

With both Louisa and co-founder Jonny Benjamin MBE (mental health campaigner who launched the Beyond charity) looking to start “a mental health revolution in our schools and colleges”, they have certainly made an impact. But there’s still so much more to be done if they are to see the “sea-change” in the education system that they want.

“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.”

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