Open the door
I have many friends who talk to me about their mental health openly. I also have many staff who talk to me about their mental health openly. I am not a mental health practitioner other than being trained as a mental health first aider, so why do they talk to me?
I believe it is because I have opened the door.
I have made it very clear that I think mental health is as important as physical health and also that for me there is no stigma- mental health belongs to and affects us all.
I was trained as a mental health first aider four years ago and it sparked a realisation for me that mental health should be talked about more openly and honestly. I started to educate myself and my SLT about why discussing mental health was so important and more importantly why we should be supporting both our staff and pupils in improving their understanding as well as teaching strategies to support their own mental health. It became clear to me that if we did not support the mental health of our pupils and staff then it was a barrier to learning and well-being.
Four years later we have a culture where mental health is discussed openly- we talk about it without it defining us and without a stigma being attached. I am proud to say that we have supported many of our staff through signposting, counselling and more often just by listening and I know that it has helped make our staff community closer and to feel more valued.
Our children are taught about mental health from Early Years in an age appropriate manner- they learn to talk about their feelings using a measure my mood system which is modelled by their teachers. Mood monsters are used to support their understanding and to develop the language they need. We have designed an extended curriculum which includes teaching children about all aspects of mental health- in key stage 1 children start to look in more detail about feelings and the link between physical and mental health moving onto issues such as online critical thinking, peer pressure and the stigma of mental health in Year 6.
For years mental health was something we never talked about and people who suffered from depression, anxiety, bipolar or other mental health conditions were made to feel they were inadequate and told to pull themselves together. When you understand mental health you realise it is not a weakness and people who suffer from poor mental health are not choosing to feel that way.
If you are in a leadership position my message is simple- please find out more about mental health and support your staff and pupils to understand it better. Make sure you support those in your organisation who need your help and never be dismissive or judgemental. Make mental health discussions the norm.
Open the door.