(image: Phebe Lou Morson for Metro.co.uk)
Mental health in young children came to the forefront of the news agenda when the Duchess of Cambridge announced the Mentally Healthy Schools programme in association with Heads Together and other charities. The programme is an online resource for teachers, educators and carers – including parents – to support mental health in young people, including advice, resources and ideas, tailored to the curriculum. How should we talk about mental health in schools?
Here’s what the experts say.
The Duchess spoke to an audience and visited Roe Green Junior School, in London, one of the scheme’s pilot schools. She said: ‘We know that mental health is an issue for us all – children and parents, young and old, men and women, of all backgrounds and all circumstances.
‘What we have seen first-hand is that the simple act of having a conversation about mental health – that initial breaking of the silence – can make a real difference. ‘There is so much to be gained from taking the mental health of our children as seriously as we do their physical health.’
The programme aims to improve the mental health and wellbeing of school-age children, and provide support to the most vulnerable. Something that society often overlooks is the mental health of our children in school – children often spend more time there than at home. So what is being done to support children who have suffered a bereavement of a family member or friend and are struggling with grief in school? This can also mean loss – for example a family break-up or house move.
Grief can be described as profound sadness or distress at a loss that comes suddenly after loss or is difficult to process. Children find it particularly challenging to accept and come to terms with these emotions. Dr Sarah Parry, clinical psychologist at the Manchester Metropolitan University, says:
‘Children often express particularly powerful feelings through their actions and behaviours. ‘Parents and teachers may notice children are quieter than usual, shying away from playing with friends, or needing the constant company of a trusted adult or close friend. ‘Children can also become reluctant towards changes in their routine or might appear extremely angry. ‘Recognising these behaviours as a communication of deep sadness, anxiety, confusion, guilt and frustration can help adults respond with compassion. ‘Providing straightforward and sensitive answers to their questions, offering emotional support, hugs, and reassurance can all help a young person cope.’
Karen Martin, a hypnotherapist specialising in this area, says children often get sidelined during a period of grieving. ‘When adults become overwhelmed with grief, they have few resources to spare a thought for children, who may be so shocked or traumatised they withdraw into passive compliance, unable to ask for help,’ she says. ‘Children often get sidelined when a family experiences loss. ‘The worst example I ever came across of this was an 11-year-old girl whose mother died of cancer the day before the first day at her new secondary school. ‘Her grief-stricken father sent her to school. ‘The school put her in the sick bay and left her alone all day because they didn’t know what to do with her. ‘Years later, she was still struggling to process her loss.’
Children of school age should be looked after through their grief so they can process it and maintain good mental health. The not-for-profit Grief Recovery UK sends trained specialists into schools across the country. There are six two-hour sessions held for teachers in this field, which are then embedded into school life to help pupils. Carole Henderson of Grief Recovery UK says: ‘Where we are different is that we equip teachers, parents and other adults who care for children with usable skills. ‘What everyone who works with children is crying out for is clear direction on what to say, what not to say, to verbally support children experiencing loss. ‘The key here is that we deal with the emotions of grief and loss’
Buckton Vale Primary School headteacher Deborah Brown says grief recovery training has been implemented in her school. She encouraged teachers across the area to come to her school to take part in the training and has now coached her senior leadership team. She says: ‘We believe it is so important to support children and young people through their losses, in order to support their mental wellbeing.’
Despite this excellent work, there is still more that can be done. Claire Goodwin-Fee, a therapist who works with children, notes that there are still not enough resources or counsellors in schools. ‘Every day, 100 children in the UK lose a parent,’ she says. ‘Charities are doing their best but waiting times are too long. ‘As a society we need to start looking at mental health support.’
Parent, life coach and actress Holly Matthews concurs. She has spoken to the media about the grief and loss that she and her two young daughters have faced when their husband and father passed away in this thirties, from brain cancer. ‘Grief in children is a minefield and one I am currently trying to navigate,’ she says. ‘Schools currently aren’t equipped to deal with grief, regardless of their good intentions. Brooke, who’s six, has started the process of play therapy and we do lots of things at home with her and her four-year-old sister, Texas, to keep the conversation open and their Dad part of their worlds. ‘I would welcome children going through grief being helped more in schools.’
It is hoped that initiatives such as Grief Recovery UK and Mentally Healthy Schools will begin to challenge the status quo and put more resources into child mental health within schools, supporting parents and carers and encouraging teachers to be educated in this area. It Is clear that children and carers are crying out for more support in a school setting and beyond.
Read more: http://metro.co.uk/2018/02/02/children-often-get-sidelined-when-a-family-experiences-loss-why-its-important-we-talk-to-pupils-in-schools-about-grief-7270002/?ito=cbshare