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Mental Health Awareness Week: How to Meet the Wellbeing Needs of Students and Teachers

7 minute read
By Smoothwall

This Mental Health Awareness week the charity Mind has launched their #NoMindLeftBehind campaign, which encourages us to recognise the need for accessible mental health care for everyone. Inspired by this mission, this article explores the need for wellbeing solutions in education that address the mental health needs of both students and teachers.

A two-pronged approach

Schools are more aware than ever that they “have an important role to play in supporting the mental health and wellbeing of their pupils” (KCSIE 2023). Today’s young people are faced with a plethora of issues that can impact their mental health, so it’s vital that necessary measures are taken to mitigate the potential harms they experience.

To successfully fulfil this duty, it’s also important to acknowledge the fact that many of those tasked with protecting students could be dealing with a mental health crisis of their own. Indeed, Education Support’s Teacher Wellbeing Index 2023 reveals that teacher wellbeing is at its lowest level in five years. As teacher and student mental health goes hand-in-hand, wellbeing solutions should consider and support the needs of both groups. 

Issues impacting the mental health of students

According to Mind, since 2017, the number of young people dealing with mental health issues has almost doubled. This is likely to be at least in part down to the significant changes and adjustments they have had thrust upon them. 

Not only are children still processing the disruptive impact of a global pandemic, but they are also one of the first generations to grow up online - a unique position that carries both benefits and challenges.  

These two factors can heighten the impact of issues that young people have always dealt with, including: 

  • Low self-esteem: For some, feeling self-conscious is part and parcel of growing up. However, insecurities about physical appearance are significantly magnified in an age of social media, where unrealistic beauty and lifestyle standards are widely promoted, and the urge to compare oneself to others is unavoidable. 

  • Bullying: Online spaces provide a dangerous combination of anonymity and access that allows bullies to be more targeted and relentless in their abuse. The use of technology like deepfakes is also fuelling an alarming rise in personalised online attacks.

  • School-related stress: The upheavals in education forced by the pandemic had an incredibly disruptive influence on student learning and development - the repercussions of which are still being felt to this day. The Good Childhood Report 2023 found that more children were unhappy with school than any other aspect of life they were asked about. 

Issues impacting the mental health of teachers

teacher-talking

 

According to the Teacher Wellbeing Index 2023, 78% of school teachers are stressed, marking a 6% increase from 2022. The worrying state of teacher wellbeing is further reflected in NASUWT’s recent call for suicide prevention methods to tackle the mental health crisis amongst teachers. The union’s wellbeing at work survey found that 84% of teachers had experienced more work-related stress in the previous 12 months, suggesting that this is an escalating problem. 

DSLs in particular are under a significant amount of pressure. Safeguarding Leads shoulder a majority of the responsibility for protecting students’ mental health and must do so in a context where threats are constantly changing and evolving. 

Specific issues having a negative impact on the mental health of DSLs include: 

  • Increasing workloads: DSLs often have to juggle existing teaching roles alongside their safeguarding duties, which can lead to burnout. In recent years, public sector cuts have forced DSLs to assume more pastoral responsibilities, as overstretched systems struggle to take on more cases. 

  • Regulatory strains: DSLs are having to adhere to more regulatory requirements than ever before, including taking lead responsibility for online safety, and understanding the filtering and monitoring systems their school has in place. This is happening at a time when trust in regulatory bodies is strained, with 73% of school staff stating that inspections are not fit for purpose (Teacher Wellbeing Index 2023).

  • Visibility challenges: As many safeguarding threats now reside online, DSLs must grapple with the challenge of trying to protect students from digital risks that are hard to identify, let alone prevent. 

Improving wellbeing for students and teachers

The pressing issue of mental health within schools has been acknowledged by regulatory bodies and significant steps are being taken to improve outcomes in this area. This is evident in guidance to introduce and expand mental health support teams within schools - an initiative which should improve student wellbeing whilst taking some of the pressure off busy DSLs. However, such plans are still in their infancy and more funding and education is likely to be needed before significant improvements are felt. 

In terms of solutions schools can adopt now to support mental health across their communities, digital wellbeing platforms can offer a range of benefits. 

What are digital wellbeing platforms?

Digital wellbeing platforms are tools that provide a channel for students and staff to share how they’re feeling, ask for help if needed and access various mental health resources. They also help DSLs to identify vulnerable students and offer leaders an abundance of data on wellbeing levels and trends across the school community. 

For example, Smoothwall Pulse can highlight wellbeing concerns via an easy-to-use dashboard that presents insights at both an individual and whole school level. This presents schools with a wealth of rich data that can be used in a myriad of ways - from tracking key trends across year groups, to informing impactful mental health curriculum.  

Benefits for students

happy-students

 

Pulse prompts students to complete a weekly 60-second wellbeing check-in by selecting answers to a short list of fun and varied questions. Some schools choose to build wellness sessions around these check-ins, to encourage wider discussions about mental health. Creating these spaces educates children on the importance of wellbeing and can increase their confidence in talking about such issues. 

The check-ins also give students the option to ask for help from a trusted staff member. Many young people can find speaking up about their mental health difficult, and may be too embarrassed to do so in person. This can often be the case if students do not have an established relationship with the adult leading mental health sessions. The digital platform therefore facilitates important conversations that may not otherwise happen, and encourages students who may be dealing with issues like low self-esteem or bullying to access support.

When a school introduces wellbeing platforms it signals to students that their mental health is a priority. Tools like Pulse include a feature that allows students to share weekly gratitude for a particular teacher, fellow student, or aspect of their life. Practising useful wellbeing rituals like this can improve their experience of school, as well as their general wellbeing. 

Benefits for staff

The benefits of wellbeing platforms for staff are twofold, as they can use platforms as participants and administrators. As participants, teachers also have the option to complete weekly check-ins to share how they’re feeling and raise any concerns. By doing so, they can gain access to support and highlight to school leaders periods when staff morale is particularly low.

As safeguarders utilising the platforms for students, tools like Pulse can provide instant visibility in terms of vulnerable students and trending risks. This allows DSLs to intervene early and prevent issues from escalating, which in turn should reduce the need for more serious interventions down the line. This increased visibility can deliver a greater sense of control for DSLs, as well as potentially improving their workloads in the long run. 

Finally, implementing a wellbeing platform can also help schools from a regulatory perspective. Investing in such tools can clearly signal to Ofsted inspectors that efforts are being made to establish a “whole school approach to mental health and wellbeing” (DfE). Leaders can also show how the information gleaned from the platform is used to inform school curriculum around mental health, and specific data can be shared as evidence of the effectiveness of wellbeing initiatives.

How-to-reach-vulnerable-students-who-dont-speak-up

Want to learn more?

For further information on wellbeing platforms and how they can benefit your school, download our free whitepaper: How To Reach Vulnerable Students Who Don't Speak Up.

If you’d like to learn more about  Smoothwall Pulse please contact us at enquiries@smoothwall.com. We’d be happy to help. 

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