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NURTURING POSITIVE MENTAL WELLBEING IN THE COVID-19 WORLD: TOP TIPS FOR PRIMARY SCHOOLS

Dr Libby Artingstall and Dr Sile McDaid (Team Mental Health) are the medical experts behind Wellbeing Through Sport, a unique programme developing mental and physical wellbeing in primary age children.

After months without the routine, support systems and social benefits provided by the school environment, the negative impact on children’s mental health is another unwanted legacy of the coronavirus pandemic.

Researchers in this area are warning of major adverse mental health consequences, presenting yet more difficulties for primary schools who are already facing an incredibly challenging day-to-day environment. The situation is still evolving but we have already seen evidence that COVID-19 has impacted on the mental health of children, and in our opinion, we can’t afford to overlook this. The Co-SPACE study recently undertaken by experts at the University of Oxford provides some insight, with the parents/carers of primary school children taking part reporting an increase in their child’s emotional, behavioural, and restless/attentional difficulties.1

Ahead of COVID-19, we were already seeing alarming signs of child wellbeing in the UK reducing or becoming stagnated, with a 2018 UNICEF report revealing that the UK performed ‘average’ or ‘below average’ compared to other rich countries.2 There’s no doubt that the COVID-19 crisis has exacerbated the problem, meaning we are now at a critical point for the mental health and wellbeing of primary age children, which must be prioritised and protected throughout and beyond the pandemic.

As evidence suggests that 50% of all mental health problems are established by the age of 14 years3, we believe it really is important for schools to help with the promotion of good health and the prevention of poor health, and primary schools are uniquely placed to play a pivotal role in supporting children to be mentally and physically healthy, now and into the future.

With the government now requiring that children learn about their mental health and wellbeing, more emphasis is now rightly being placed beyond the traditional academic and educational outcomes. Here are our top tips for primary schools developing their wellbeing programmes:

  1. Ensure a whole school approach to mental health and wellbeing

A whole school approach is a key component of the Wellbeing Through Sport programme as we believe that for real and meaningful differences to be made, the promotion of good mental health and wellbeing needs to extend beyond the programme curriculum and be embedded across the whole of a school.

This means prioritising mental health and wellbeing and delivering a systematic approach to support this. We believe that being proactive to drive positive mental and physical health outcomes, in pupils and staff, is just as important as being reactive when problems arise.

  • Recognise the importance of, and take steps to enable organisational confidence and capability

Provide training, as part of continuing professional development, and resources to equip staff members with the understanding and skills they need to drive positive change.

  • Strive to develop and maintain an environment that is safe, affirming, and which creates a sense of belonging

The right school environment can enable pupils and staff to stay safe, keep healthy, and empower self-care. Foster an open culture where mental health and wellbeing is promoted.

  • Ensure an open-door policy for pupils and staff

It’s important to listen to the voices of the children, young people, and staff in your school so they feel safe and able to raise concerns.

  • Make sure there are clear and effective early-help pathways in place

To avoid any delays in accessing professional support, take steps to understand what support might be suitable and how to access local support services. Staff should feel part of a multi-agency working team and understand their role.

  • Work in partnership with families and your local community

Support parents and carers to recognise their role in supporting children and young people to be mentally and physically healthy, and ensure there are clear communication channels in place.

  • Promote wellbeing through physical activity

It goes without saying that activity is good for children physically, but studies also suggest it plays an important role in building resilience and supporting recovery from mental health problems.4 Programmes such as Wellbeing Through Sport have been specially designed to generate positive outcomes for both physical and mental health and we recommend combining wellbeing learning with physical activity for this reason.

Sources

  1. Mahase, 2020 & Pearcey et al, 2020
  2. The Children’s Society, 2018 & UNICEF, 2013
  3. Kessler et al, 2005
  4. Public Health England, 2020

About the Wellbeing Through Sport programme

The Wellbeing Through Sport programme has been developed in partnership between Team Mental Health and primary sports education specialists, EdStart Sports Coaching.

The aim is to deliver a programme focused on promoting good mental health and wellbeing, and therefore reducing the likelihood of a mental health problem occurring.  Covering areas such as emotional awareness, empathy, conflict resolution and assertiveness to build emotional intelligence and resilience, children are not only equipped with the life skills needed to strengthen their wellbeing but also complete at least 30 minutes of physical activity at the same time, highlighting the importance of both mental and physical health – which has been shown to have a strong influence on mental wellbeing. Schools receive a place on the Wellbeing Through Sport Masterclass and participating staff members will learn how to promote good mental health through completing online CPD UK accredited training.

For more information about the Wellbeing Through Sport Programme, please contact enquiries@edstart.org.uk / 0300 303 4414

About Team Mental Health

Team Mental Health is headed up by two medical doctors, Dr Libby Artingstall and Dr Sile McDaid who specialised to become consultant psychiatrists. With significant collective experience of working with children, young people and adults experiencing mental health problems, they became acutely aware of how limitations in the way mental health is perceived and managed could impact on the ability of a person to realise and achieve their potential.

Libby and Sile realised that for real differences to be made, expert led support to inform and empower the frontlines of our communities was essential. They collaboratively reflected on their knowledge, experience, best practice recommendations and the evidence base, and considered carefully how these could best be combined to develop an accessible, meaningful and empowering intervention. For the last four years, Team Mental Health has been successfully working with schools, businesses and the sports sector to promote good mental health, prevent mental ill health and detect signs of mental health problems.

About EdStart Sports Coaching

EdStart provides sports coaching and extracurricular school sports clubs, delivered by a team of highly trained and qualified professional coaches. The organisation helps schools meet government targets for weekly levels of physical exercise for children, whilst lightening the load on teachers with innovative new sports software.