Blogs

Last month the AnDY Research Clinic together with the School of Psychology and Clinical Language Sciences held a national conference discussing mental health in schools.

The event was a mixture of brand-new research, practical strategies and eye-opening personal stories.

The most powerful moments of the day were the speeches from four Young Champions representing Time To Change, a charity that aims to reduce the stigma around mental health. These brilliant speakers; Jack, Abbie, Jessica and Mary each gave their stories about their experiences when in school as well as providing advice for school staff and leads. The inclusion of young people throughout the day is representative of our work in AnDY, as we try and include the young voice in all the research and clinical work that we carry out. Having people with lived experience of mental health problems part of the event helped demonstrate that these problems were real, relevant and impacted on young people’s lives.

The day opened with Professor Shirley Reynolds of our own AnDY team discussing recent developments in school interventions. Shirley’s talk stressed the importance of the 5 pillars (relationships, healthy eating, sleep, purpose and activity) as being key to staying mentally healthy. This was demonstrated by a striking amount of incredible evidence that has come out of the AnDY team – notably Emily Green’s findings that young people with low mood are most likely to describe themselves as being ‘tired’.  Similarly Sundus Khalid’s research on the effect of nutrition and blueberry flavanoids on positive affect was met with interest. Shirley finished her talk discussing the latest research on Behavioural Activation done in schools which aims to help young people find a sense of purpose from activities they enjoy.

Lord Layard was up next giving an ambitious presentation about the future roles of teachers and CAMHS services within schools. The remarkable cost-effectiveness of investing in young people’s mental health at an early age was the takeaway message for commissioners and school leads.

Professor Neil Humphrey gave an incredible snapshot of school mental health research and of the evidence exploring the detrimental effects of having CAMHS services cut. From a researcher standpoint, it was fascinating to hear that ‘not all RCTs are equal’. Neil implored researchers to create interventions that take what we already know and focus on more creative research designs that are actually sustainable and fit cultural differences that suit the school environment.

Dr Jess Deighton’s presentation expressed the need for schools to measure outcomes and to track the effectiveness of interventions. It was clear from the talk that schools need to ask the questions and examine the evidence behind interventions before allowing programs to be introduced. The Wellbeing Measurement Framework was presented as a reliable tool to be used by both researchers and schools.

It was encouraging to see qualitative data presented at the event, with Professor Mick Cooper showing a synthesized model of the role of the counsellor. The protocol of the exciting new ETHNOS trial was discussed, which aims to explore the effectiveness and cost implications of humanistic counselling in schools. Mick closed by emphased how more research should be looked into standardized counselling for different client groups and ages.

The day finished with Dr Pooky Knightsmith summarizing the previous talks and describing key practical ideas that schools can take away with them. It was incredible that she wrote all the slides throughout the day when listening to the talks! Her closing remarks asked schools to 1) do no harm 2) ask questions 3) tailor to fit 4) measure impact and 5) share what works and what doesn’t. This advice is reminiscent of the evidence-based focus of the day and the importance of placing young people and what works for them at the forefront of everything we do.

It was a tremendous success and we are grateful to the collaboration within and between the AnDY team and The Charlie Waller Memorial Trust. All the slides and research posters from the event are available online at andyresearchclinic.com.

– Lucas Shelemy, PhD student


MH in Schools Blog

The Mental Health in Schools conference was made up of a day’s conference with a range of impressive keynote speakers, preceded by an evening event with a variety of practical workshops. I was lucky enough to be able to attend on both days.

Tuesday’s conference started with an introductory address by Vice Chancellor Sir David Bell. This was followed by talks from academics both from the University of Reading and elsewhere. One stand-out speech for me was that by Professor Lord Richard Layard, who noted that schools make almost as great a difference to emotional wellbeing as they do to GCSE grades, before suggesting numerous different ways in which mental health could be promoted in schools both now and in the future.

Even more impressive than the talks by academics were those by the Time to Change Young Champions. These four young people spoke clearly and openly about their experiences of mental ill-health (including OCD, anxiety, and suicidal ideation) as school students. Each of these individuals had very different experiences, but the take-home message from most of their talks was that teachers simply listening to them had a massive impact. Some also touched on the lack of mental health education in some schools’ PSHE classes, and the need for teachers to be trained in listening or mental illness.

The Monday evening event gave guests the opportunity to take part in workshops on a selection of important topics, from helping a young person who is self-harming to supporting students with ASD. I chose to listen in to a workshop on creating a practical whole-school approach to mental health, run by Teresa Day (Charlie Waller Memorial Trust’s CYP and Schools Programme Manager) and ex-teacher Lucinda Powell. It was interesting to learn about the government’s eight principles to promoting whole-school wellbeing, and the ways which these could be put into practice, such as promoting student voice, running targeted PSHE sessions and running socials for staff. It was very encouraging to hear a few of the ways in which many schools are already improving student – and staff – wellbeing, such as getting students to speak about their weekly highlights during tutor period, and organising “knit and natter” clubs for teachers.

At both events, I spent the breaks at the AnDY stand, speaking to conference attendees about our Research Advisors’ Group. It was wonderful to speak to so many people who have a real interest in improving mental health, and as well as those who signed up to our mailing list on the day, a lot of parents and teachers took away leaflets to give to their young people.

I was also privileged to be one of the judges of the poster competition, alongside a teacher, academics, and a representative of The Royal Foundation. It was fascinating to see what research is going on both internally and elsewhere, and all of the posters were of an incredible standard.

I found both days thought-provoking yet very enjoyable. I was pleased to see representatives from so many different schools and I’m hopeful that this conference will have helped schools to evaluate the ways in which they help young people’s wellbeing.

– Catherine Newell, AnDY RAG facilitator


Is there really a mental health crisis amongst our young people? 

As a teacher with little time to delve beyond the headlines about the ‘mental health crisis’ I have wondered what exactly has changed.  Thankfully Neil Humphrey was able to answer some of these really important questions.  Yes and no!  We are seeing more issues in some groups of children (mainly adolescent girls) but this has been compounded by changes and cuts to CAHMS (Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services) meaning that problems that in the past would have been nipped in the bud are now able to manifest in our children and young people (CYP).  However, the media coverage of mental health in the last 10 years or so has increased exponentially so it is really in the public psyche.

So the burden seems to be falling on schools to sort it out.  I worry about this: teachers are teachers, not mental health experts.  And let’s face it they are also suffering all sorts of mental health issues from work stress – they aren’t exactly the greatest role models.  Professor Lord Richard Layard outlined some of the changes that need to be made at the highest level in order for schools to be able to take on some of the responsibility such as having PSHE as a dedicated subject for PGCE rather than a bolt on all teachers deliver with little or no training; closer ties between NHS, CAHMS and Schools; changes in OFSTED to incorporate wellbeing as a measure of school effectiveness.  All of this costs money, but the savings made in the long term by early intervention, he argued, would far outweigh the costs in the short term and a budget should be made available to fund this.

In a bid to ‘do something’ head teachers often buy in shiny packages with all the right buzzwords but all too often these resources and workshops have no evidence suggesting they work, and the long term impact is questionable.  Jess Deighton, in her talk, stressed the need for senior school leaders to demand to see the evidence before they buy into these packages.  But that also if you do implement mental health programmes of any kind that you really need to monitor the impact that it has on your school, both long and short term.

So what should schools be doing?  Sadly one size does not fit all as Pooky Knightsmith stressed in her talk.  There is a vast array of possible options that can be great for many schools.  When choosing these there are 3 key questions Pooky suggests you should ask as a school Wellbeing/Mental Health lead:

  • What are we trying to achieve?
  • What works for our children and young people?
  • What works well for our staff?

Before you buy off the shelf you need to ask these searching questions.  Don’t be afraid to ask other schools for advice.

To finish on a positive note.  We were treated to the stories of 4 young champions who were inspirational.  They clearly felt that the progress schools are making in this area, even in the last 7 years, gives them hope that young people today will not suffer in the same way they did.

– Lucinda Powell, former teacher