A new hope for mental health in schools

Ravina Rao listens to the podcast 'Our kids in mind'.

Teaching is an emotionally demanding and fast-paced role that requires juggling many responsibilities. I was, therefore, interested in the mental wellbeing of teachers and chose to focus my MSc dissertation on this topic. Unsurprisingly, research in this area highlighted that teaching is associated with high levels of burnout and poor mental health. The pandemic has continued to stretch teachers, parents, and students’ ability to adapt to ongoing restrictions and education demands. So, naturally, I gravitated to the podcast, ‘Our Kids in Mind’ featuring Pooky Knightsmith, and particularly the episode, ‘Mental Health in Schools’, facilitated by Clinical Psychologists, Bettina Hohnen and Jane Gilmour.

Pooky discusses her recent book called The Mentally Healthy School’s Workbook. The book is a guide created for schools to improve mental wellbeing support for their students, families, and staff. This book was inspired by Pooky’s work with Leeds Beckett University. The book focuses on core themes that can help to create mentally healthy schools. To help achieve this, the book includes proactive and practical steps and action plans. Pooky also mentions the importance of using several case studies and voices of different schools in the book, which ensures that a variety of experiences and reflections are captured.

There are several important aspects relating to supporting children’s mental wellbeing. Pooky highlights the importance of parents working in partnership with schools. This helps bring together two people’s expertise and encourages open discussions about the child in two settings; at home and in school. Pooky emphasises that working constructively together helps to address concerns relating to the child’s wellbeing and performance, as well as seeking early intervention. I believe it is important for the partnership to be based on mutual respect and an open understanding of different views of mental health, considering, for example, how culture, generational barriers and stigma may prevent these open discussions, and how teachers and parents can overcome this respectfully and safely.

Pooky sheds light on contemporary challenges within schools for teachers. The podcast discusses whether it is feasible for teachers to notice students’ struggling with their mental health, especially because this can manifest in different ways. The podcast declares that teachers are brilliantly placed to support students’ wellbeing. Pooky’s experience of speaking with staff found that teachers are passionate about working with students to help them achieve academic and future success. Many understand students’ mental wellbeing is interlinked with different aspects of school life. Despite this, there is pressure for staff to hold on to information as they struggle to find organisations where students can be referred to without parental support, as well as the importance of working in a supportive workplace culture where all staff are confident with safeguarding procedures. The podcast sources ‘a new hope’ that mental health specialists can work in schools across the country that may help to lessen the pressure on teachers. Additionally, Pooky enforces the importance of simplistic things, such as smiling at a child so that they feel valued and recognised. 

Overall, the podcast is a great listen for those working in an education setting, and also parents, guardians and anyone passionate about wellbeing not just in schools but other work environments too. The podcast leaves you feeling empowered and motivated to work collaboratively in ensuring students’ mental wellbeing and expands our thinking of the importance of wellbeing in any and all workplaces.

- Reviewed by Ravina Rao BSc (Hons), MSc; Psychological Wellbeing and Mental Health Practitioner; Email: [email protected]; Instagram: ravina.rao_ ;Twitter: RavinaRao27

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