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More of this please: new research to focus on young people's mental health and wellbeing

Schools are being invited to take part in a series of trials testing different approaches to supporting young people’s mental health. Where might this study lead us in terms of helping young people?

This research has the potential to transform mental health promotion in schools across England.

At Outward Bound, our work revolves around helping young people to reach their full potential. We specialise in developing skills such as self-awareness, self-esteem, confidence, self-management, resilience and determination by providing opportunities for young people to connect with others, to be active, to become more aware, to support others and to learn new skills. These skills are proven essentials in both preventing the onset of and combating diagnosed mental health problems, and promoting young people’s wellbeing.

Research like this excites us – it shows that we’re part of a bigger picture working towards a common goal: prioritising the value of young people’s mental health and emotional wellbeing.

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What is the trial and how will it work?

The trial, led by the Anna Freud National Centre for Children and Families in partnership with University College London, is designed to explore what works in schools to support young people’s mental wellbeing.

The trial will test five different approaches to wellbeing, based on the themes of ‘awareness’ and ‘inspiration’:

AWARE project for Year 9, implementing and evaluating:

  1. Youth Aware of Mental Health (YAM) - a mental health promotion programme delivered by external professionals over five consecutive weeks.

The Mental Health and High Schools Curriculum Guide (The Guide) - a mental health literacy curriculum delivered by teachers through six lessons lasting 45 – 60 mins each.

INSPIRE project for Years 7 and 8, implementing and evaluating:

  1. Mindfulness - delivered for 5 minutes on a daily basis by trained school staff.
  2. Strategies for Safety and Wellbeing - eight consecutive weekly lessons each lasting 45 minutes delivered by trained school staff.
  3. Relaxation - delivered for 5 minutes on a daily basis by trained school staff.
What can schools do to promote mental health?

The research will run until 2021, and aims to give schools new, robust evidence about what works best for their students’ mental health and wellbeing. They are still looking for schools to take part in the second wave of research, so if you or school might be interested, head over to their website to find out more.

Aside from this trial, there is a wide range of support out there for schools looking to develop a mental health strategy, or improve their current practice. The 2015 Public Health England report on school wellbeing provides an extensive list, including government guidance, curriculum resources, and resources written by young people, for young people. Some local authority public health teams also provide coordinated health and wellbeing support for schools and other learning providers.

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The Children and Young People Mental Health Coalition (CYPMHC) recommends focusing on three principles to improve the ways in which schools support their pupils’ emotional wellbeing:

1. Better balance between wellbeing and attainment

Schools need to advocate pupil mental health and wellbeing, striving towards better balance in the curriculum. CYPMHC recommends that Oftsed uses its existing mandate to assess how schools are promoting wellbeing.

2. Better training and support for school staff on mental health

CYPMHC advocates training for both new and existing staff, to ensure they understand children and young people’s mental health and wellbeing. Training should equip staff to deal with issues in practice, and should also raise awareness around their own mental health.

3. Better support for children and young people when needed

There needs to be appropriate, targeted support within schools and colleges, and the local community, to support the mental health of all pupils. Schools should have good relationships with specialist services, to establish joint working arrangements, referral pathways, and share skills, knowledge and expertise.

Working to improve young people’s mental health is a virtuous circle. Programmes to support social and emotional learning can significantly improve attainment outcomes. In turn, a good education can be a protective factor for mental health. We want to encourage schools to properly embed informed mental health and wellbeing programmes within a whole-school approach – and we’re looking forward to see how this latest trial adds to the evidence-base.

Further Reading

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