This week (5-11 February) is Children’s Mental Health Week. Hosted by children’s charity Place2Be, the awareness week was launched to empower and give a voice to all children and young people in the UK.
The theme for 2024 is ‘My Voice Matters’. To find out more about the mental health support available in schools and colleges across South West London, we spoke to Kelly Lewis-Cole, the clinical lead for our Education Wellbeing Service in Merton.
Q. What is the Education Wellbeing Service?
The Education Wellbeing Service is made up of ten mental health support teams that work within schools and colleges to support the mental health and wellbeing of children and young people, parents, carers, and everyone who works in schools.
We help schools to create nurturing and welcoming environments for young people and our overall aim is to increase access to support at the earliest possible stage. We support schools to take a whole-school approach which is about making emotional health and wellbeing everyone’s business.
Q. Tell us about the support you provide in primary schools?
In primary schools we offer regular coffee mornings for parents/carers on a range of topics including helping children with fears and worries, two programmes of one-to-one sessions about challenging behaviour and managing anxiety, and a variety of workshops and webinars. In the spring/summer term we offer all primary schools a workshop for year six students called ‘worry ninja’ to help prepare them for the important transition from primary to secondary school.
Q. Tell us about the support you provide in secondary schools and colleges?
In secondary schools and colleges our education wellbeing practitioners offer one-to-one interventions for young people experiencing mild to moderate mental health issues including anxiety and low mood. In colleges our further education team have also developed a great training programme called ‘every conversation matters’ which is about supporting college staff to have everyday conversations about mental health with young people.
In addition to our work with young people and parents/carers we also work very closely with school staff across schools and colleges. We offer training and consultations, help with developing policies around mental health, spaces for reflective practice, and advice and support on looking after the wellbeing of staff.
Q. Tell us about a project or initiative that you think is making a difference?
We’ve been offering consultation slots for schools around emotionally-based school avoidance which recognises that attendance can be linked to emotional, mental health or wellbeing issues. The work has evolved, and we now have a much wider network of professionals who are working together to improve attendance more broadly, which is brilliant.
Separately, a colleague of mine has been running a new group for parents about ARFID (avoidant restrictive food intake disorder). There are 16 parents signed up who are finding the sessions really helpful and have even started their own WhatsApp group to share experiences. It’s wonderful to see people coming together to support each other in this way.
Q. What advice would you give to a parent/carer worried about a child’s mental health?
Speak to your child’s class teacher (primary schools) or head of year/allocated senior mental health lead (secondary schools). Please reach out for help if you need it – we are here to support you.
Q. What online/digital support resources would you recommend for parents, carers and young people?
Our service has its own YouTube channel with a wide range of webinars and videos for parents, carers and young people covering a variety of topics including emotional regulation, school-based anxiety, eating difficulties and disorders.
Kooth.com has a range of therapeutic tools to support children and young people. Their team of accredited counsellors offer a live chat and direct messaging service to talk about whatever issues are on a young person’s mind. They also have an online magazine, activity hub and discussion boards where young people can start a discussion about anything, whether it’s asking for advice or just having a rant about something on their mind!
Stem 4 also have some great free apps including Calm Harm, a free app to help teenagers resist or manage the urge to self-harm.
Q. What would you say to a young person who is struggling with how they are feeling?
Your voice matters! If there are things you think your can school can be doing differently to support you, tell your teacher or designated mental health lead. We want to know what’s working for you and what isn’t. If you need help, please reach out and talk to someone whether that be your class teacher or another trusted adult. Reaching out can be hard but you’re not alone and the sooner you speak to someone the sooner we can help you.