Shaftesbury School staff have noticed an increased level of students and parents with some form of mental health issues. That is why they’ve arranged an advice evening for both adults and children next Tuesday. Alfred found out more.
“We are trying to promote talking about mental health. We deal with lots of students in the school who fall into that spectrum of mental health somewhere along the line,” explained Jo Beach, the Pastoral Care Worker and the Deputy Designated Safeguarding Officer at Shaftesbury School. “We are putting on this event and inviting parents to come along to get a taste and feel of the organisations that can support young people and parents.”
Jo says that parents often assume that if mental health help is needed, it will be offered from CAMHS, the Children’s Adolescent Mental Health Service. She says that NHS agency is very busy and not all issues reach the threshold for CAMHS’ support. “They are a fantastic service and we do a lot of work with CAMHS, but we recognise that some of our students don’t meet the threshold.”
Tuesday’s event will introduce a range of lower-level mental health and well-being groups and organisations.
Erika Crossley is the Health and Wellbeing Manager for the Southern Academy Trust which operates Motcombe Primary, St Andrews Primary in Fontmell Magna, Shaftesbury Church of England Primary and Shaftesbury School. Erika says it’s the first time an event like this has been arranged to showcase what assistance is available.
“There are so many amazing charities out there that work with mental health and wellbeing with young people. The NHS has other things on offer. They will be coming to discuss ‘Chat Health’. There’s also ‘Mosaic’, which is specific towards bereavement support for young people,” explained Erika.
Headstrong, a community project set up by three former Shaftesbury school friends, will be attending on Tuesday. Reach will also be there. They specialise in work surrounding drugs and alcohol. “We also have a representative from the North Dorset Family Partnership Zone, too. They work with families at that lower level,” added Jo.
Many parents or guardians will be unused to schools taking such a proactive role in mental health matters. When many adults were pupils themselves there was little support. “They don’t know what’s out there. They think doctors or school,” said Erika, as she described where many parents turn first for advice.
“There is a certain generation who don’t want their child to go on the internet, because they think it’s a scary and dangerous place. Chat Health is online using texting. Parents are worried, but that is what we need to do with the children now, because that’s where they are. It is the best way to reach them and there are safe ways. It’s about promoting that.”
Jo says that one of the important aspects of Tuesday’s event will be to reduce the stigma surrounding mental health by encouraging open conversation about issues and support. “Every one of us, at some point, is going to struggle with a mental health or wellbeing issue and we need to talk about it. We need to bring mental health out into the open and need to be positively working towards supporting young people. The idea of the evening is to encourage parents to look and listen to what the professionals are saying, take that on board and move it forward,” said Jo.
Erika says that young people are aware of mental health terminology. They can sometimes use phrases and words in conversation which can alarm their parents. “They are using words like anxiety and self-harm. It’s part of the vocabulary, which it never was in the past. Young children are using words like depression because they hear them.” That can be frightening for adults to hear. But, again, the women say that Tuesday’s session could be helpful for concerned parents or guardians.
Today’s pupils are more aware of mental health issues than previous generations. Jo says the children support and look out for one another. “We’ve had some students who have been to see a member of staff because they’re concerned about their friends. Two students have done that today. From the moment we get the email we can then support the young person because their friends are caring and supportive. That peer-on-peer stuff is really important,” said Jo.
Before half term, the school ran a peer-mentoring session with Dorset Mind. Jo says the project aims to give young people the information they need to help friends who are struggling with bullying or any form of mental health anxiety. “They have been trained to be able to do that,” she said.
Erika says helping students to help each other is an important development in school. “Kids talk to friends. That’s what they want to do. We give a certain group of those peers the education and support, so they know what to do.” Those trained pupils are made aware that they can contact an adult in the safeguarding team if their friends need more support than the pupils can give. “They are trying to bring that out in a lot of schools and we’re lucky to be one of the first ones in Dorset to have that,” said Erika.
If you want to attend the event there is an online form to express your interest. The session starts at 6pm on Tuesday 10th December at Shaftesbury School.
“There is a large talk at both 6pm and 7pm from Dorset Mind. It will be the main overview of mental health in general and how we can support children. Then you can sign up for 10-minute slots with different organisations to learn about what they do. There will be leaflets and the chance to have a question-and-answer session with all of the different organisations. It is focused on 11 to 18-year-olds but we are encouraging people with younger children because the children will grow up and they will eventually need to be dealing with all of these things,” said Erika.