An opportunity to tackle mental health that is not to be missed

With worrying statistics about young peoples’ and teachers’ mental health continually reported in the media, we believe that the introduction of compulsory requirements for Health Education demonstrates a golden opportunity to tackle these issues head on.

Relationships and Sex Education and Health Education (RSHE) has garnered some negative press as groups with differing opinion discuss the particulars of the ‘relationships’ element of the requirements.  Conversely, the ‘health education’ component hasn’t received as much attention.

The government’s draft guidance for RSHE describes the importance of recognising that physical and mental wellbeing are intrinsically linked and that, ideally, schools should take a holistic approach to mental health.

‘The curriculum on health education should similarly complement, and be supported by, the school’s wider education on healthy lifestyles through physical education, food technology, science, sport, extra-curricular activity and school food.’

This guidance suggests that the assurance of good mental health practices within school becomes everyone’s job. To make progress towards good mental health, practices should be integrated throughout a school’s personnel, infrastructure, and procurement and curriculum choices.

For example, allowing the opportunity for open discussion in your form room or a space for learners to share their current mind-set (see this great example of a teacher’s mental health check-in board for her learners). You can also take a look at our blog on tips for talking about mental health in the classroom.

There’s evidence to support that the food we eat can also greatly affect our mood. Considerations to the food choices young people make can be difficult as they begin to assert their own independence. Spending your dinner money solely on chocolate is often a rite of passage, but one which shouldn’t really be repeated on a regular basis if you want to feel good. Instilling the value in the fuel that young people put in to their bodies is a starting point of basic self-care. Mind has some great information on food and mood to explore or you can take a look at our V Certs in Health and Fitness or Health and Social Care, both of which explore elements of healthy living good diet and exercise.

Unfortunately, we know that some young people go hungry because of reasons other than an extra 10 minutes in bed or choosing chocolate over a sandwich at the supermarket. At the most basic level, can learners access drinking water and are there heathy food options in the café, or consider a breakfast club at your school for those learners who may not have this available.

As for your curriculum choices, exam stress for young people is increasing as traditional GCSE coursework has been phased out and in its place, high-stakes cumulative assessments undertaken in a short space of time. When we created V Cert Technical Awards, we ensured that learners would be able to demonstrate their knowledge gained in other ways outside of the external assessment element, to enable young people to exercise their individual creativity and be rewarded for it.

Our forthcoming RSHE qualifications for years 7 -11, have been developed to meet the requirements of the Department for Education for what learners should know at primary and secondary level in their entirety. This include the benefits of physical exercise, self-care, talking about your emotions, seeking help and awareness of common types of mental ill health. You can keep up-to-date with developments of these qualifications here.

Finally, to ensure good mental health practices are instilled throughout the school, it’s important to remember your own commitment to self-care and mental wellbeing. We often put ourselves last and forget that setting boundaries and realistic expectations is an important part of the foundations from which we should build.

We’ll be exploring this in further depth during Mental Health Awareness Week in May with content on our website and our social media channels. Please do follow us on Twitter, Linkedin or Facebook for updates.