This week across the U.K. it has been Childrens Mental Health week. Did you know that?
How much was it publicised across the United Kingdom? The only reason I knew it was this week is because my PE department are so good at looking after both our students physical and mental wellbeing and really made an effort to create an atmosphere of positive thoughts, positive mental wellbeing and share resources in order to help those who may need it.
Thing is, in my view which may be different than others; mental health is an issue (especially right now) that needs to be looked after, cared for and supported more than ever before. There are many parables and comparisons to other times in history when the Human population and spirit has been tested, bent, broken and rebuilt where there was little focus on the mental health of the people. An example would be the Great War, followed by Spanish Influenza, followed by the Great Depression before the Second World War....what a horrible and made couple of decades that would have been? There are some key differences, with one of those being it is a different time, with different pressures and sadly a nation of people who are nowhere near as united as they were back then. There is no common enemy or propogandrial saviour figure, no evil shadow threatening us to stand against. People are forced away from family, people are ostracised for taking the COVID-19 rules seriously and argue when they dont. In many ways, people are more along than ever. The old saying "Just because I am alone, does not mean I am lonely," for many cannot and no longer holds much relevance to people today. people are alone, and they are lonely. With an enemy that is silent, like a shadow that creeps up on one person, barely noticing it before latching on to another and having visceral and life threatening and changing effects. It is unprecedented in its unpredictability; and that is what makes this virus scary.
We turn on the news, it is sad, frightening and depressive. The T.V no longer holds much relevance, the storylines predictable and old. The great outdoors, for many, is a lifetime away using lightspeed. For others, the great outdoors is a step away and that freedom has kept many sane, but also put many in danger when seeing this freedom abound. We do not take this luxury or privilege lightly however. It is a luxury to live close to the sea, something many of us have found we take for granted; it is a luxury to be able to meet a single friend and go for a coastal hike, run, boulder. They are privileges not many people are able to get, so in some ways, many ways, it is understandable for many people to wish to seek out their adventure in the outdoors, to breathe the sea salted air that blows from the Atlantic. To watch the sun set fire to the clouds over the horizon as you dangle your feet over the edge of a cliff, holding onto a hot cup of chocolate. The waves that crash in white flotsam as the white horses dance and canter across the wind raged waves. It sets us free being able to experience these things. Being able to go outside right now is paramount to good mental wellbeing, and sadly, there has been a decrease in the numbers of poeple taking part inactivity and the outdoors.
The weather has turned, but that by no means means we cannot go outside. To take that breath of air and leave the stress, pressure and oppressive nature of the screen behind. students spend 80-95% of their time now sat at a desk watching a screen, reading from a screen or writing on a screen. This has led to higher dependencies on social media, lower motivation to be outdoors and a dependence on the devices we are using for our interactions.
At school this week I ad hoc designed, created, researched and then evaluated a method to positive increase my students mental wellbeing surreptitiously whilst also allowing me to see how they were doing without being invasive. This was through introspective reflection using a student mental wellbeing reflective log book; the technique focused on utilising positive words and allowed them to take the time to think back on their day; what they had done, what they would like to do. This meant them putting all electronics down (shock horror!), putting their work to one side and stepping away, physically and mentally, from the monumentus tasks that we teachers set them each week. Slowing down, instead of keeping them going forwards and forwards and forwards and forwards and forwards and forwards and....hang on, lets slow it down.... put it away, what have you completed today? What have you enjoyed? Tell me something interesting you thought of... this introspective reflection acts as a gap where students dont need to work to the final second. They can reflect on their learning, create neural pathways that connect experiences and meanings and in the long run allow them to be curious about learning, not afraid of it. My trial group worked and were overwhemingly positive about it (yay!) and now it is being rolled out across the year so I am excited to see how it goes!
Right now schools need to be a positive environment where students can feel supported, challenged and welcomed. The world is a scary place and right now we need to be united together in order to keep our friends, families and studnts movign forwards in a safe manner; and to do that we need to look after our mental wellbeing.
So take that walk outside, leave your phone at home and see how the birds fly, how the colours in flowers seem that much brighter. Take your earphones out and listen to the chirping, the rush of water down a river, squelch of mud on the boots. The world is still an amazing place, and the outdoors is still there no matter where you are - in the countryside or a park within the city - all you have to do is make the decision to go and find it.
Mental health isnt just one week, it is every week.
And when the time comes, we will meet again on the beaches, on the cliffs and in the mountains. To sing our shanty songs, to tell our stories and laugh and smile and hold each other within the glow of a bonfire on the beach.