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Students strive to raise the profile of Children’s Mental Health Awareness Week

Northampton students have shared their mental health experiences to help raise awareness of anxiety, depression and other conditions among young people.

The Sixth Form Leadership Team at the Northampton School for Girls are taking part in a series of school activities for Children’s Mental Health Awareness Week, which started on Monday, February 7.

As part of this work, the pupils have been developing resources and videos to support their peers and younger students, raising awareness of mental health and the different ways this can affect young people.

Emma Parker, Sixth Form President and student leader, has chosen to speak openly about her own experiences of mental health in order to encourage others to do the same. She recently took part in LightBulb, a mental health programme for schools created by St Andrew’s Healthcare.

LightBulb, which can also be used in primary schools, has been designed to help teachers spot the early signs of mental health issues in children and then take appropriate early action. It provides a ready-made framework so those that participate can demonstrate and showcase excellence regarding mental health practice to regulatory bodies such as Ofsted.

Emma said: “During lockdown I spent a lot of time on my own as my mum is a keyworker for the NHS. I’ve always had a tendency to over-analyse things, but during lockdown this increased. I didn’t notice it until I was back at school, which is when I realised my confidence had hit rock bottom.”

Manisha Kooner, also part of the Student Leadership Team at Northampton School for Girls and an avid promoter of Children’s Mental Health Awareness Week, added: “Last year, around exam time I felt very low. I felt like I needed to be better than everyone else. I started taking on more and more activities, as well as a job. It all got a bit too much.

“After the challenges I experienced, I wanted to raise awareness of how, and where, students could get support. By collectively delivering a range of mental health activities, we also wanted to make sure that students do not feel alone in their experiences.”

Headteacher of Northampton School for Girls, Cristina Taboada-Naya, said: “I am incredibly proud of the Student Leadership Team’s work for Children’s Mental Health Week, as it reflects their dedication to the important issues that affect us all.

“It can be easy for us to take our mental health for granted; to prioritise other things or to put it off. It is vitally important that young people are aware of the signs of poor mental health and know how to access support. It is well documented that the pandemic has led to a sharp increase in children, or all ages, needing increased support with their mental health.

“As we emerge from the pandemic, we continue to do everything we can to address the mental health needs of our students. It is vital that they have the support they need at every stage. This means they need to be supported to understand good physical and mental health.”

According to the Children’s Society, in the last three years the likelihood of young people having a mental health problem has increased by 50 per cent. With only 34 per cent of those children being referred into NHS treatment services, Emma and Misha’s Assistant Headteacher, who is responsible for well-being, thinks it is very important schools do all they can to help.

Carol Pichler leads on mental health and wellbeing activities across the school and was keen to sign up to the LightBulb programme.

She said: “It is clear that the pandemic has impacted the mental health of many of our students; we know this is the picture across all schools. LightBulb has given us the additional support we need to ensure we continue to do everything we can for our students and has provided additional expertise. We are doing everything we can to ensure that we are offering a lot more rounded support for all our students.”

“Adolescence can be such a difficult time for young people as they navigate their way through physical and emotional changes; the fact that they’ve all had to endure several lockdowns where they were away from their friends at such an important part of their lives was bound to have an impact.

“Providing the best duty of care for everyone who comes to this school is very important to me, which is why I’m hugely grateful to the LightBulb team at St Andrew’s for providing all their time and resources.”

Once signed up, the school receives mental health awareness and support training for all school staff as well as sessions for both parents and students. Each session talks about symptoms, support and signposts resources.

Cheryl Smith, LightBulb founder and Headteacher of the St Andrew’s College, said: “At St Andrew’s we care for some very poorly young people who have not received the help they needed until it was too late, leading to them needing to come into hospital. It is a worrying situation and the role schools can play by recognising and supporting mental wellbeing is paramount in ensuring young people have access to support when it is most needed.

“As a team, we wanted to find a way to target young people and try and equip them with the skills they need to be resilient and seek help about mental health issues, hopefully reducing their and positively impacting the outcomes they experience. We believe early intervention is essential and can make a huge difference to the wellbeing of those children who are experiencing mental health issues.

“LightBulb is not just about helping children, parents and teachers to recognise the signs early, it’s also about creating a culture of positive mental health which is driven by school leaders and embedded in practice.

“We firmly believe that this approach could significantly reduce the number of children who go on to develop complex mental health problems, while also encouraging development of resilience, coping skills and self-help skills which are vital for overall development.”