The lack of mental health provision for children has reached a crisis point. According to a recent Institute for Public Policy Research (IPPR) report published last year, 3 children in every classroom have a clinically diagnosable mental health condition. The report suggests cuts in the NHS and local authority budgets of early intervention programmes have left children unable to access timely support. Government plans to provide more support in the form of mental health first aid to schools is clearly very welcome; however, such proposals won’t stem the flow of children developing mental health problems in the first place.
“Sticking plaster approaches are not long term solutions”
Schools on the ‘Front Line’
With Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services (CAMHS), being severely stretched, schools have found themselves having to cope with an increasing number of young people requiring mental health support without any adequate provision. According to the IPPR report, Education, Education, Mental Health (2016), 90% of head teachers have reported an increase in mental health problems in their schools over the past five years. It is thought around 1 in 10 children are affected by mental ill health (Layard 2011).
Schools at the heart of the solution
There is growing evidence and support for preventative strategies to stop children developing mental health problems in the first place. It is the same approach adopted for the prevention of disease in physical health. If we eat healthily and do more exercise we will prevent a whole raft of diseases such a type 2 diabetes and heart disease. Preventative measures in mental as well as physical health are always far better than intervening when there is a problem.
As children spend a significant proportion of their time within schools, it is important that they play a key role in providing preventative strategies. The current approach is very adhoc with some schools providing a better culture for nurturing well-being and mental health than others.
Harnessing a well-being approach to mental health in schools
The Thrive Programme offers a well-being model to mental health. This is also the approach advocated by positive psychologists. It is centred on getting children and young people to flourish, equipping them with the self-awareness, skills and resources so they learn to live a happy and fulfilling life.
The Thrive Programme Approach
The aim of the Thrive Programme is to get individuals from anywhere on the ‘Struggling’ or ‘Resilient’ range to Thriving. It is not about focusing on symptoms, but about giving everyone whether they are 8 or 80 strong psychological foundations, providing them with the skills and self-insight to cure themselves of the issues that are stopping them living life to the full.
Optimising Psychological Well-being in children and young people
Many schools have started to implement strategies to enhance mental well-being. ‘Resilience’ and ‘Growth Mind-set’ are key buzzwords at the moment in education. However, the Thrive Programme offers something different, bringing together all the keys skills and concepts from psychology for optimal well-being. It focuses on developing strong psychological foundations in children: an internal locus of control and healthy self-esteem. Locus of control is about how much someone feels they are in the driving seat of their life rather than how much their life is controlled my external forces. Clearly there are many things that children cannot control about their lives but for those things that they can’t, it’s about giving them great coping skills. The programme helps develop resilience and beyond, self-confidence, emotional intelligence and self-efficacy (the belief one has to complete a task or reach a goal). The programme will challenge any unhelpful beliefs and thinking styles a child may have that is stopping them from flourishing and being happy in life. It helps children develop a growth mind-set where they start enjoying their learning rather than just being focused on an end goal. It teaches them to not fear failure and when things get tough to not give up on achieving their goal.
What specific issues can it help with?
- Cyber bullying
- Learned helplessness
- Exam stress and anxiety
- Behavioural issues
- And many others issues that are stopping a child flourishing
The Bounce Programme is an especially adapted version of the Thrive Programme to enable it to be implemented within a school environment. A Thrive Programme Consultant with specialist training in the Bounce Programme can deliver the sessions to small groups of children or the teachers can be taught how to deliver the bounce programme with the support of Thrive Consultants. The Bounce programme follows the Thrive for Teenage book and adapts the delivery according to the specific needs of the group. The programme is very interactive. It is easy to understand, evidence based, empowering and can achieve rapid positive results in weeks.
How has the bounce programme made a difference in schools?
The Bounce programme has been rolled out in a number of schools in Scotland as well as a young offender’s institute. An example of the effectiveness of the programme can be seen from a group of six 13 and 14 year olds in a school in the East of England. Rob Kelly, the founder of the Thrive Programme, took this group of students who had behavioural, motivational and self-esteem issues through the programme. As a result of going through the programme, their achievement increased, attendance improved, self-esteem increased and they felt a greater sense of power and control over their behaviour, leading to better behaviour.
With a growing impetus to drive forward preventative strategies in schools, it is hoped that numbers of children developing mental health issues will start dropping. This will then lead to less complex and costly interventions in adulthood. The sticking plaster approach is certainly not the way forward. It is hoped that childhood mental well-being approaches using applied positive psychology such as Bounce, the Thrive Programme in Education are more broadly used within schools in the future.
Layard, R (2011) ‘The Time for Action’, New Scientist 210(2808)
Institute for Public Policy Research (IPPR) (2016) Education, education, mental health: Supporting secondary schools to play a central role in early intervention mental health services http://www.ippr.org/publications/education-education-mental-health
Post contributed by Sue Tetley, Thrive Programme Consultant