A whole school approach to mental health

Updated: Dec 2, 2021


A Whole School Approach to Mental Health


Every year, more and more schools recognise how large of a part they can play in the mental wellness of their pupils. It's worth discussing how to promote wellbeing in schools.


School counsellors can be hugely beneficial, but it’s not enough. For one, not all schools have one, leaving many students across the country without access to a counsellor. And two, one person can only do so much.


When a school adopts a whole school approach, every teacher and staff member becomes a part of the mental wellness of each student. And with the help of mentoring, every young person gains the opportunity to do their part of supporting each other and themselves.


Miff Martinek, founder of This Is Me, explains what a whole school approach means and how it helps.


We cover:

  • What is a whole school approach to mental health?

  • Why is a whole school approach important?

  • Who is responsible for this approach?

  • How can mentoring help this approach?

  • How can my school get involved?





What is a whole school approach to mental health?

A whole school approach to mental health is when the school is looking to embed the social and emotional wellbeing of their young people in all aspects of school life.


An easy way to think about it is similar to safeguarding. Your school might have a designated safeguarding lead (or DSL). But when taking on a whole school approach, every single teacher and person within the school community is also responsible for safeguarding.


That’s what we’re looking for, but with mental health instead of general child safety.


So, your school should have certain people leading the way in mental health to double-check that everybody has the correct information and proper training. But every person within the school would take on the responsibility of caring for students’ mental wellness.



Why is a whole school approach important?

The goal of having a whole school approach is to focus on the prevention of poor mental health.


When we look at available studies, we see that those who have struggled with their mental health began experiencing issues early on. Actually, 75% of affected people report their mental health conditions were well-established by the time they were only 24.


Statistics like these show how vital it is for schools and other services that young people access to have the tools they need to support mental health.


On the flip side, the services available for young people who’ve reached a really bad place, primarily CAMS (Collaborative Assessment and Management of Suicidality), can be difficult to get because they can’t support the high number of people needing them.


From my experience as a health and wellbeing coach, it’s so common to hear about pupils just not meeting the threshold of how bad they need to feel to access CAMS in the immediate time they may require help.


So, for us in schools, we need to get better at helping students when they’re just beginning to struggle to prevent these mental health crises from building.



Who is responsible for this approach?

So, the government has suggested and promised that they will look at getting a senior mental health lead in every school by 2025.


That’s brilliant and a really good step in the right direction.


But in the meantime, we’ve still got to do something about the declining mental health in young people and across the school community.


The way to do that is to involve the whole school, meaning every individual in that community; the staff, leaders, pupils, and parents. Then we can equip them with a skill set that allows them to have open, useful, and productive conversations about mental health.


Being able to talk about it is one of the most helpful tools needed to support the mental wellbeing of young people and everybody around you.



How can mentoring help this approach?

One of the biggest problems with a whole school approach toward improving mental health is that the idea can feel a bit vague or a bit wishy-washy, for want of a better phrase.


It’s not always very clear what each of us can do to have an impact and cause change.


For me, this is where mentoring comes in.


If our focus is on prevention, as it should be, then we need to actually have enough useful conversations that focus on mental health early on. The more we do this, the more we can identify and address when young people are feeling overwhelmed.


And I say young people, but actually, this is relevant for our teaching staff, our parents, and everybody.


We want to identify those moments of stress, the relationships that aren’t healthy for us, and other factors that lead to declining mental health.


When we’re identifying them in those around us, we’re helping one another because we’ll know what to say to have a supportive conversation that can help guide someone through a small challenge. Hopefully, that will help prevent their issue from building up and becoming a full-blown mental health problem.



Mentoring empowers everyone

Thinking about mentoring as a tool to manage and support mental health, we develop an environment where everybody is empowered.


They’re empowered with the skills to talk about their own mental health, something that many people still struggle with. And they are also empowered to support other people, as well.


As many of us know, the best way to learn and improve ourselves is to teach and guide somebody else.


That’s precisely the opportunity mentoring provides. It is just as beneficial for the mentor as it is for the mentee.


It’s an excellent way for us to provide some structure and encourage really powerful conversation around mental health that’s done in a positive, non-biased way. It helps us all move forward and build a strong community.



How can my school get involved?

Every term, I work with a small handful of schools that are ready to embrace this kind of approach to their wellbeing strategy by managing mental health head-on.


If you want to explore how pupil mentoring can improve wellbeing in your school within the Hereford and Wiltshire area, I'd love to hear from you.

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