Pupils call for schools to act on mental health issues

Pupil representatives and staff from integrated schools joined politicians and the Integrated Education Fund at Stormont yesterday (Monday 20 January) to discuss the outcomes of a mental health conference for integrated schools. The conference last October brought together 154 people from integrated primary schools and colleges to consult on well-being in young people and on how to develop mental health support for pupils – and highlighted that the majority of young people there thought embarrassment would hold them back from seeking help.

Pupils call for schools to act on mental health issuesGuests, including MLAs from across the political spectrum, the Shadow Northern Ireland Secretary Tony Lloyd and Karin Smyth MP, gathered at Stormont for the launch of the report on the findings of the consultation. They heard an urgent call from young people for ten priority actions to be implemented in schools.

‘Listening…A Mental Health Conference’, was funded by the National Lottery Community Fund and took place on World Mental Health Day in October 2019. It was hosted by the IEF in collaboration with the Association of Principal Teachers in Integrated Schools (APTIS) and the Northern Ireland Council for Integrated Education (NICIE).

Research at the conference revealed that 79% of the young people attending thought young people would be too embarrassed or afraid to get support for their emotional well-being or mental illness – and that only 1% would go to a teacher for help with a mental health problem, whilst 12% felt there was no-one they could talk to. However, the vast majority (80%) thought schools should appoint key support staff so that pupils knew who they could approach for help.

Pupils call for schools to act on mental health issuesIt also highlighted that some of the biggest issues impacting on young people’s mental health were school-related, such as exams (including the Transfer Test) and homework. Social media, self-image and bullying emerged strongly as contributory factors among post-primary students, as well as complex factors related to home life.

During round-table discussions, three out of four post-primary student groups said self-harm and suicide can result if mental health issues were left unchecked. Alarmingly, one leader shared how evidence of self-harm was starting to become apparent amongst primary-aged children.

Presenting the report, Paul Collins of the IEF said:
“This is about waking up to the fact that our young people are, often, struggling with many aspects of life including social, home and education. We want to highlight that mental health problems are prevalent but more importantly outline initiatives that can be put in place in an educational environment to support pupils.”

Speaking at Stormont yesterday, Kellie Armstrong MLA who hosted the launch said:
“It’s important that from an early age children know it’s okay to talk about their feelings and worries. The report of the conference shows that there needs to be a whole-school approach to mental health, with training for teachers, programmes connecting with parents, provision of relaxation rooms and mental health and emotional well-being delivered through the curriculum.”

Pupils call for schools to act on mental health issuesGrace Doherty, a pupil at Drumlins Integrated Primary School, Ballynahinch, who took part in last year’s conference, commented:
“The conference made me realise how important our mental health actually is and how you need to talk to your friends and family when you are feeling down. It also made me understand how big a problem mental health is for young people in Northern Ireland and how there is not enough help for them. As a member of the Student Council in Drumlins IPS I know that even children in primary schools can suffer mental health problems.”

Pupils call for schools to act on mental health issuesAlison Fraser, Head of Funding from The National Lottery Community Fund, welcomed the outcomes of the conference:
“Our experience of working with communities is that when you listen, people have amazing ideas to make things better. I am proud that funding raised by National Lottery players is being used to highlight such an important topic, and is helping give young people the chance to form solutions with the Integrated Education Fund, so they can get the support that’s needed.”


Future Initiatives: 10 Priorities emerged from the analysis of all consultation responses
All schools should have:
1. Training for all teachers in mental health and emotional well-being
2. Student access to mental health experts
3. Mental health and emotional well-being delivered through the curriculum
4. A whole school approach
5. Student mental health ambassadors
6. Gender Sexuality Alliance groups at post-primary
7. Programmes which connect with parents
8. Resources to set up relaxation rooms for students
9. A mental health first aid kit
10. A steering group to oversee the promotion and lobbying of mental health issues

Detail about each of these priorities is contained in the ‘recommendations’ section at the end of the summary report which you can download here.
Summary Report
Appendix 1 school attendance
Appendix 2 conference programme
Appendix 3 Fresh Little Minds facilitator notes
Appendix 4 contributor presentations
Appendix 5 Live polling results
Appendix 6 Media Coverage


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