There is something odd about identifying a specific day or week to focus on mental health and wellbeing. Surely, something so fundamental to everyone deserves more than a brief moment in the spotlight. However, the increased awareness and openness to talk about mental health may well be partly down to these awareness-raising days.
Not so long ago mental health in schools was confined to closed-door conversations about whether the school could manage the return of a student who had been away for some euphemistically framed absence. Whispers and backstories accompanied their return and the task of catching up and fitting right back in was often too great for some young people.
It is by no means perfect now, and there are still many young people who find managing a mental health condition and being in school a challenge at best, and at times simply impossible. But the change in attitude, and to some extent practice, is real.
Last week’s Young Minds #HelloYellow and World Mental Health Day on Sunday gave many the opportunities to demonstrate support, empathy and even action for change for those affected by mental illness. Social media posts, online events, school-based activities were much in evidence last week. Conversations are more open, knowledge more widespread, attitudes are changing.
We all have mental health, so any change in attitude and awareness will bring benefit to us all in the long run. The shift in thinking that sees mental health as a universal rather than simply a targeted intervention should bring about systemic change. If we are to start dealing with the challenge of supporting the almost 40% of young people reporting a deterioration in their mental health since 2017 (https://digital.nhs.uk/data-and-information/publications/statistical/mental-health-of-children-and-young-people-in-england/2021-follow-up-to-the-2017-survey#key-facts ) we must see action that targets the majority.
Putting mental health and wellbeing at the heart of a school may be one of the most important things we can do.