Advice from young people
Paradoxically, one of the best ways that schools can help children and young people living with medical and mental health conditions is by listening to what they have to say!
Young people know what is helpful and what is unhelpful. They are also creative and inspirational in finding solutions. Additionally, schools find that when they work together with young people to overcome their challenges, the school then becomes a more positive place for all of their students, not just those identified as having medical or mental health needs.
Here are some pointers from young people:
What helps (and what doesn't!)
What is not helpful:
- If students are falling behind in the classroom and struggling to do homework, it is sometimes out of their control. Often they cannot simply motivate themselves by saying “try harder” or “be more focussed”.
- For some young people, it is not always helpful to keep asking them how they are feeling. Instead, make time to review how things are going for them.
- Do not assume a child or young person cannot do something just because of their medical needs. Instead, ask them and find out; a simple adjustment might be all they need.
What is helpful:
- Hold awareness weeks every term. Ask young people that are comfortable with it, to give lectures talks about their own medical/mental health conditions.
- Let students tell teachers only as much as they are happy to share.
- Give students a time out card and let them sit near the door so that it is possible for them to leave discretely if things become overwhelming.
- Allow students to wear noise-reducing headphones to reduce sensory impact.
- Make the young person feel as comfortable as possible through extended deadlines.
- Reduce pressure on exams/class tests and offer support where needed
- Identify a named member of staff the young person feels comfortable with, so they have someone to talk to if they need to.
My school wasn’t very aware...The school that I used to go to wasn’t very aware of mental health issues, despite the rising occurrences in young people and adults. There was little to no support, no education around the subject and a stigma amongst both teachers and students towards those who were in difficult situations, making the already difficult social environment even more challenging. As you could imagine, this did not do anything to help our mental health. There was a counsellor at the school, however, they often didn’t keep the level of confidentiality or sensitivity required in a lot of situations, leaving pupils knowing that there was something wrong, but it wasn’t important enough to change anything, making them feel like they were isolated, and often exacerbating the situation. Students were left to suffer in silence, thinking no one could understand, an approach that is outdated to say the least. The few who were referred to CAHMS were done so without the due urgency or empathy, leading to waiting times of at least 3 months. The least they should have done is treated those students with care and support during that waiting time, instead of forcing them to continue with exams and homework, piling on pressure, despite their issues with either mental health, or home situations. Student F
My school was very aware...The school that I last attended was extremely aware of mental health, holding awareness weeks every term, having people who were comfortable with it hold lectures on their own mental health, and most important of all, they had two counsellors you could see at any time, and two psychologists from an outside organisation that you could see as required. My head of year was extremely accommodating, taking the time to meet with me every morning to check on how I was doing. I was given permission to leave lessons whenever I needed to, given a card that I could show teachers without the need to speak allowing me to leave without any fuss. I would go to a quiet place, or the health centre, so I could calm down. My teachers were only told as much as I agreed they could be told, and some even made sure I could stay sitting near the door. I had only very few occasions when they told me I couldn’t go on a trip because I was a risk. I was allowed to use my headphones and phone in the corridors, I met with my psychologist once a week for an hour and a half. In the end, it was a troubled friendship that was the reason I became unable to attend. I was referred to CAHMS about a month after the falling out, and I was screened twice, and I was given beta blockers to manage the physical effects. But even after the screening, I was given a minimum of three months to see a psychiatrist, but after my future at the school was determined as uncertain, they said I needed to see another CAHMS service, extending the waiting time. Weeks spent alone at home took its toll and now I am looking at new colleges, one in particular has been extremely supportive so far, so I hope to continue seeing CAHMS and continue managing my mental health in a positive way. Student I
A schools responsibility...I believe that one of the most fundamental principles for schools to understand is that if students are falling behind in the classroom and struggling to do homework, it is sometimes out of their control and students cannot simply motivate themselves to “try harder” or “be more focussed”. I believe it is a schools responsibility to make the young person feel as comfortable as possible through extended deadlines, less pressure on exams/class tests and by offering support to these individuals. What I found particularly useful from schools was the level of understanding that they understood and practical approaches that they took to ensure a more pleasant schools experience. This included the opportunity to drop subjects that I was really struggling with and not enjoying. Student X