6 things all schools should consider before adding mental health lessons to the curriculum
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Current estimates suggest that one in ten children have a clinically diagnosed mental health or behavioural problem, so it’s not hard to see why the idea of “mental health literacy” – or mental health lessons in schools – is going mainstream.Most recent to these discussions are in Canada and India, where there’s been debate about how to give young people the knowledge and skills to monitor and manage their own mental well-being. In the UK, a recent report concluded that mental health should be taught in UK schools as a core skill – just like literacy or numeracy. Social and emotional learning is already an area of rapid and profound innovation, with many programmes already being trialled in schools – including work carried out by my colleagues at the Centre for Evidence and Social Innovation for the Education Endowment Foundation. But of course, educating young people about mental health and well-being is no simple task. Below are my top six recommendations we as educators, parents and citizens should think about before introducing mental health programmes in schools.
1. Stay positiveAs a society, mental health needs to mean more to us than the presence and absence of disorders and distress. A lot of public health and safety education issued to young people is framed in terms of the avoidance of threat – so children are taught the reason to learn the green cross code is to avoid accidents and death. But we can’t approach mental health education in the same way. Conversations about mental health need to start on the front foot by introducing positive benefits. And concepts like emotional intelligence and mindfulness can also be shown to be positive skills which can be honed and used across a range of situations.
2. Shine a light into dark cornersOn the flipside, we want young people to seek help and to talk about problems as they arise. So it is necessary to introduce an understanding of different types of mental health problems, what their causes might be and how they are treated. Here, educators may fear introducing students to labels that students may use disparagingly against one another, or will then search for online. Clearly there is no easy answer here and encouraging safe internet use is a kindred problem for schools. But ultimately, the hope is that by shining a light on a mental health condition, or on a group prone to poor mental health, related stigmas might dissipate in the long run.
3. Think about the teachersSome topics, such as bullying, will be familiar territory for educators, and schools will often have structures in place to prevent and respond to bullying. But other important factors, such as poverty and ill-health of family members, may be more difficult for teachers to discuss. This is because these topics may only affect some students, and could make these pupils feel embarrassed or isolated.
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