Mental health and wellbeing – The lasting help that schools can give their students
Yvonne Kekeliadis highlights some of the key mental health issues many students are grappling with, and how schools can assist them in ways that will make a positive, long-term difference
Each year, Mental Health Awareness Week provides an important and timely opportunity for schools to highlight how integral positive mental health and wellbeing is to the success of students.
Perhaps more crucially, it also offers an opportunity to reflect on the effectiveness of the support available to children and young people within schools, and ensure that this fully meets their needs.
A year-round priority
Schools should use the momentum and enthusiasm in the wake of Mental Health Awareness Week to champion positive wellbeing and put in place effective techniques for bolstering students’ self-esteem and confidence. Mental health awareness should ultimately be a year-round priority for all school leaders, teachers and students.
This is all the more pertinent following a disruptive few years for schools, with many students now facing an uphill battle to regain confidence in their academic and personal lives, on top of the growing issue of young people facing sharp declines in their confidence and self-esteem as they get older.
To tackle the issue at source, schools should prioritise providing students with lasting skills to tackle challenges relating to their confidence – be confidence in their body image, sense of self or academic ability, or in response to bullying.
What is confidence?
One of the leading issues many young people face in building their confidence is not knowing exactly what confidence means. It’s a term that’s regularly conflated with a tendency to show off, but young people can and should be taught to be proud of their achievements, and supported in being happy with who they are.
Children and young people sometimes don’t understand what it takes to be confident. It doesn’t require you to be the best at everything, but rather be proud of what makes you different. At the heart of mental health support around confidence and self-esteem should be an effort to teach young people what it means to believe in themselves.
Challenges to confidence
It’s also important to be aware of the fact that many young people can face competing challenges to their self-esteem. These challenges will differ from student to student, and likely change over time as new trends arise.
The evolution of social media, for example, has profoundly changed the way in which young girls now develop low self-esteem regarding the way they look. Previously, schools might have tried to teach their students not to compare themselves to portrayals in films or magazines, given their artificiality and inaccurate depictions of real life
With social media, however, many young people are failing to apply those lessons to the posts they see each day, despite the fact that those Instagram posts are more often than not just as carefully constructed and edited as any magazine photo shoot. These ever-changing challenges mean it’s imperative that schools stay up to date with the latest trends impacting upon the confidence of young people.
Overcoming failure and building resilience
An important aspect of building self-confidence is overcoming the fear of failure. Throughout their time in education, it’s inevitable that children and young people will occasionally fail at a task – that’s how we learn. To overcome this fear, students need to learn about the positives of failure, and see it as an opportunity to learn something new, rather than it being a negative indictment of their ability.
This focus on being scared to fail is core to the support young people will need in the lead-up to their exams, especially once we see a return to traditional examination arrangements for the first time since 2019.
In our self-confidence workshops, we draw upon examples from popular culture and the lives of our participants to show the minimal impact one single failure can have on the rest of a person’s life. We teach students about the ways in which they can look at failure as an obstacle that can be overcome, and how to recognise learnings they can then take forward. Supporting students in developing a more positive mindset towards both failure and success is a vital skill which will stand them in good stead for all aspects of later life and adulthood.
Mental Health Awareness Week may be over for another year, but mental health and wellbeing efforts remain a year-round issue for schools. With these tips in mind, schools should look at their own wellbeing support provision and ensure they’re offering students a helping hand that can boost their confidence and really help them learn how to tackle challenges to their self-esteem, instead of simply raising awareness of the issue.
Yvonne Kekeliadis is the founder of Brightstarz – an organisation offering a range of workshops aimed at equipping and empowering young people with the skills and knowledge to build their self-confidence; for more information, follow visit: brightstarz.co.uk