Last week was #TimetoTalk Day, Mental Health Awareness Week is in May and in the autumn it’s World Mental Health Day. Last year at school we used World Mental Health Day as an opportunity to raise money for mental health charities, talk about mental health and we ran a mindfulness taster session too.
So the question is: with so many mental health awareness campaigns already do we really need Children’s Mental Health Week too?
In my mind yes, we most definitely do. Recently I asked some of the primary school children I teach mindfulness to how they had been using it to help them. Lots of them spoke about using different techniques – like finger breathing (demonstrated here on the ‘it’s been a hectic morning’ video) to help them when they get worried about assessments. Others talked about friendship issues getting them down at break times. Already, before they hit the teenage years, their language is peppered with words like ‘stress’, ‘anxiety’ and ‘concerns‘.
So it’s incredibly important to start these conversations with children before they reach secondary school and continue them at key stages 3, 4 and 5 too. Especially as the survey published in conjunction with ‘The Big Assembly’ indicated that over 60% of 10 and 11 year olds worry ‘all the time’. According to the findings the children’s top concerns were their family and friends being okay, and not doing well at school (see more about the survey conducted by Place2Be here). The Mental Health Foundation identify that 10% of 5 – 16 year olds have a clinically diagnosable mental health problem. An equally alarming statistic that is also commonly bandied about is that it is estimated that 50 per cent of all mental health problems are established by the age of 14 (some research is now suggesting that this has fallen further to 12 years old) and 75 per cent by the age of 24.
Although not a massive fan of royalty per se, I welcome the younger royals backing of ‘children’s mental health week’ and how they caught the attention of the media with their support for the campaign. On Monday the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge teamed up with the charity Place2Be to kick the campaign off with ‘The Big Assembly’ at Mitchell Brook Primary School in northwest London and it seemed an entirely appropriate message to be propagated to help wellbeing – be kind.
This year’s focus on kindness is spot on. Cultivating kindness is a key principle of mindfulness and there is robust science behind it. Not only does promoting kindness help lower the number of bullying instances in schools, but research shows that kindness can help the ‘agent of kindness’ feel a natural “Helper’s High”. Dr David Hamilton writes about a study from the 1970s where teenagers with behavioural difficulties were asked to tutor younger children. According to Hamilton the results, published in the American Journal of Psychiatry “showed that in helping younger kids, the ‘teen tutors’ made significant improvements themselves in maths, reading, and sentence completion tasks. Most of them also showed positive changes in their attitude towards themselves, others, education and the future.”
As Catherine Roche, Place2Be’s Chief Executive commented on Women’s Hour this Monday, teaching children coping strategies [like mindfulness] will help to ensure that children’s problems ‘won’t grow with them’.
Wouldn’t it be lovely to equip the next generation with skills that help to build their resilience and emotional intelligence so that their perceived problems don’t grow with them?
And in an education system when often assessments are prioritised over everything else isn’t it time we allowed our children a little time and space to explore the power of good mental hygiene?
Yes. We really DO need Children’s Mental Health Week.