Self care for Schools

Increased Expectations

With the start of the new academic year it has become clear that expectations and demands placed on schools in terms of mental health support have increased. More responsibility is being placed on schools to deal with mental health issues faced by their pupils. This has been justified by claims that mental health training for teachers will be provided but as demonstrated by the headteachers march on Friday 28th September 2018, schools are struggling enough already to provide the resources their children and staff need.

Mental Health First Aid Training

Many are praising the provision of Mental health first aid training in schools but is this really an appropriate solution? Placing more responsibility on schools due to a lack of resources in the NHS when schools are already facing a fall in their own resources doesn’t bode well the for future of our children. Dr Wendy Sim’s Schouten’s Conversation article discusses the implications that this might have long-term.

A GCSE in Wellbeing

The impact that this has on teachers and their own mental health is apparent. Teachers have more than enough to cope with already with increased demands placed upon them and many teachers report working in excess of fifty hours per week. So, placing the responsibility of pupils’ mental health on them in addition and justifying this by saying they have been provided training is perhaps a burden they shouldn’t have to bear.

Teachers’ mental health is paramount. If they do not have good mental health themselves this will reflect on their pupils. Many teachers have expressed concern that by not looking after their own mental health, they are putting their pupils’ progress at risk, with many claiming,

“I just want to get through the day,”

And others stating that they find it difficult to care as much when they are feeling depressed themselves or that the impact this has on their concentration and fatigue affects their teaching. #perhaps to support the mental health of pupils’ it is time for teachers to lead by example and attend wellbeing workshops to then provide a GCSE in Wellbeing.

Kids in Crisis

On Monday 24th September BBC One Panorama aired ‘Kids in Crisis’ which looked at the harsh reality of the mental health system in Britain today and the impact that long waits and high thresholds have on our children with some parents being told their child would have to attempt suicide before they would be seen. This is not in line with the ‘prevention and early intervention’ policy we have been led to believe as touted in the governments February 2018 paper, Looking to the Future – Improving Mental Health Outcomes for Children and Young People.

For the Future

The Mental Health First Aid England’s Supporting Organisation is Family Links, who strive to achieve mental and emotional wellbeing of families through the provision of support programmes for parents, children and schools. They strive for a family life utopia of balance between everyone who is involved with family life. Through the provision of education and training it is hope that this can be achieved. However, the key message here is to look at the provision and utilisation of resources. With troubling times ahead. Perhaps the government needs a new strategy.


Blog post written by Kayleigh Rivett, Support Officer (Themes) for the Research and Innovation Services at the University of Portsmouth (@uopresearch).


Launch of UK Mental Health Networks

On the 6th September, UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) announced the creation of eight new national mental health networks, funded by UKRI and the Government.

What do the new mental health networks address?

The networks are a collaborative effort between charities, researchers, as well as a wide variety of other organisations (e.g., regional and national arts councils) across the UK. The networks aim to understand the causes and development of mental health problems, as well as to explore new treatment options.

What are the research topics that the networks will focus on?

The research topics that the networks address are far reaching, and range from youth and student mental health, to addressing health inequalities in people with severe mental health problems. The eight mental health networks are as follows:

  • The Emerging Minds: Action for Child Mental Health network (led by Professor Cathy Creswell , University of Reading) will explore ways in which children, young people, and their families can experience the benefits of advances in research.
  • The ‘Closing the Gap’ Network+ (led by Professor Simon Gilbody,  University of York) to understand and close the life expectancy gap between those who do and do not have severe mental health problems.
  • The Loneliness and social isolation in mental health network (led by Professor Sonia Johnson, UCL) aims to reduce loneliness and social isolation in those with mental health problems.
  • The MARCH: Social, Cultural and Community Assets for Mental Health network (led by Dr Daisy Fancourt, UCL) aims to understand how social, cultural and community factors can improve and support mental health and wellbeing, as well as preventing problems from occurring in future.
  • The SMARtEN: Student Mental Health Research Network (led by Dr Nicola Byrom, King’s College London) aims to provide data on the state of mental wellbeing in students in higher education, as well as to support them.
  • The Nurture Network: Promoting Young People’s Mental Health in a Digital World (led by Professor Gordon Harold, University of Sussex) aims to explore the effect of digital technology on the mental health of children and young people, as well as with their interactions with their family, school, and peers.
  • The Transdisciplinary Research for the Improvement of Youth Mental Public Health (TRIUMPH) network (led by Professor Lisa McDaid, University of Glasgow) aims to explore ways to improve the mental health and wellbeing of young people, especially those who are vulnerable and disadvantaged.
  • The Violence, Abuse and Mental Health: Opportunities for Change network (led by Professor Louise Howard and Dr Sian Oram, Kings College London) aims to explore how domestic and sexual violence, as well as abuse, impacts mental health and wellbeing, and to assess interventions.

Blog post written by Dr Rachel Moss, Research Assistant (University of Portsmouth) for the Office for Students postgraduate research student wellbeing project.



Emotional and Mental Wellbeing in UK Higher Education

Dr Laura Hyman, Senior Lecturer in Sociology, University of Portsmouth

Student wellbeing and happiness have become increasingly visible and significant in UK higher education in recent years. Not only has it become something that universities increasingly attend to and seek to facilitate, but it is also something that now appears to be diminished for many students. The reasons for this are manifold; however, one key explanation may lie in the marketization that has taken place in higher education in recent years. Ever since tuition fees were introduced in the 1990s, the position of the student has been paralleled with that of the consumer, and tertiary education with that of a service. Students, then, develop expectations of the ‘service’ that they should receive from their institutions in exchange for their fees; and, since these rose to upwards of £9,000 per year in 2012, such expectations are arguably higher than ever before. It could be said that students are now paying for an ‘experience’ (Williams, 2013) – and their feelings about this experience are of prime importance as universities seek to satisfy as well as educate them.

Whilst for many students, university is one of the happiest times of their lives, others have been found to experience poor emotional and mental wellbeing. This could be because their expectations of higher education do not match the reality; but it is also likely to be because most students are in high levels of debt, many are forced to take on paid work alongside their studies in order to survive financially and pressure to be seen to be ‘having a good time’ is stronger due to the presence of social media and other communications technologies. Furthermore, their job prospects for post-graduation are also less certain due to the condition of the economy and the higher numbers of other graduates with whom they must compete. As a result, mental illness diagnoses amongst the UK student body have increased steadily in the last ten years (Burns 2017).

Some sociologists, such as Furedi (2017) and Ecclestone and Hayes (2009) have responded to this critically, suggesting that one reason for such an increase is the rise of “therapeutic education”, in which students (and individuals more broadly) are more commonly regarded as vulnerable. Such as “turn” has promoted a “narrative that continually raises doubts about people’s emotional capacity to deal with physical and emotional harms.” (Furedi, 2017, p.21). However, others have praised such therapeutic practices, highlighting its importance in allowing increased recognition and acceptance of human emotional suffering (Wright, 2008).

Regardless of how one responds to this, it is fairly evident that the working lives of university staff have changed as a result. The numbers of support staff have steadily increased in recent years (although student counselling and wellbeing services are now oversubscribed, with many students on lengthy waiting lists – see Buchan 2018 for discussion of this). Academic staff with pastoral responsibilities are also finding themselves discussing emotional wellbeing and mental health issues with their tutees on a more frequent basis than ever before, despite the fact that the vast majority are not trained in this area. So, how have this latter group responded to this so-called wellbeing “crisis” that students are witnessing? And, more importantly, how do universities attend to staff wellbeing when an increasing amount of their jobs involve attending to that of their students? Evidence shows that, at many institutions in the UK, staff wellbeing has been largely overlooked. Whilst several offer access to an external employee assistance programme that offers support over the telephone (Inge and Bhardwa, 2018), few provide anything in-house. This is despite the fact that a report by RAND Europe has highlighted that 37% of academic staff suffer from mental health problems (RAND Corporation, 2017), which may be exacerbated by increased pressures to obtain research funding and to provide teaching “excellence”, job insecurity for those on fixed-term and hourly-paid contracts, and a more general expectation on the part of academics themselves to maintain excessively high standards that are often required by the profession. Perhaps it is this very culture of high standards that also renders academics reluctant to seek help for their health problems (Inge and Bhardwa, 2018); as any admission of weakness would immediately prevent them from achieving the perfectionism and “excellence” needed to do their jobs well.

So, what must be done for student and staff wellbeing? Ultimately, this post has raised more questions than answers. However, it is evident that more investment is needed in both student and staff support. Furthermore, more research must also be done in order to understand how poor wellbeing is perceived and managed both by individuals and institutions.