The results from an Integrated Education Fund (IEF) conference held in October showed that 79% of young people are too embarrassed or afraid to get support for their emotional well-being or mental health
Results from a consultation event with 154 participants from primary and secondary schools were unveiled at an event in the Long Gallery at Parliament Buildings today by the Integrated Education Fund (IEF).
The event, which was funded through The National Lottery Community Fund, also served as a launch pad for Ten Priorities* to be implemented to ensure mental health issues are identified and addressed appropriately in the school environment.
It was attended by integrated schools and a wide range of local political representatives who learnt of the findings of the ‘Listening … A Mental Health Conference Report’, which took place on World Mental Health Day in October 2019.
The conference revealed that 79% of young people are too embarrassed or afraid to get support for their emotional well-being or mental health
It also highlighted that among some of the biggest issues impacting on young people’s mental health were school-related events including the Transfer Test, homework and other exams.
The findings were the conclusion of the day-long conference held at Drumlins Integrated Primary School in Ballynahinch. It was made possible by a collaboration of organisations including the IEF, Association of Principals & Teachers in Integrated Schools (APTIS) and Northern Ireland Council for Integrated Education (NICIE) while a support grant was donated by the National Lottery Community Fund.
The 154 participants came from 24 integrated schools from around Northern Ireland, making it the largest participative schools mental health conference in Ireland last year.
When asked the question ‘What are kid’s worries that cause tricky feelings to get stuck inside?’ a sample group of P6/7 children at the event identified the transfer test as by far their greatest stressor with school and homework also prioritised.
Social media, self-image and bullying emerged strongly as contributory factors according to post-primary students as well as complex factors related to home life.
Meanwhile three out of four post-primary student groups stressed how self-harm and suicide could be the unfortunate outcome of mental health deterioration if left unchecked. Alarmingly, one leader shared how evidence of self-harm was starting to become apparent amongst primary age children.
When asked who they would go to first if they felt in need of support with difficult emotions only 1% specified that they would currently approach a teacher or tutor with over 80% saying schools should help children to know and name their key support people in school.
Paul Collins, campaign fundraiser with the IEF, said today’s event will help form a plan that will address the issues impacting on the mental health of young people here, giving them the support they need and have asked for at the conference.
He said: “It’s befitting that we release the insightful results of our ‘Listening…A Mental Health Conference’ on 20th January, what is called “Blue Monday” and conceived as the most depressing day of the year, but for us 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.”
Grace Doherty**, a Primary 7 student at Drumlins Integrated Primary School, Ballynahinch, who participated in the Conference in October, 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 Students Council in Drumlins IPS I know that even children in primary schools can suffer with their mental health too.”
Conference participant, Freya Collins (11), from Lagan Integrated College added: “I believe that if teachers are trained to help poor mental health and parents are supported, we can work together to help improve wellbeing among many young people.”
The IEF’s Ten Priorities will aim to provide a support-based approach to mental health issues by focusing on training for education providers, access to health experts, delivery of mental health and emotional wellbeing through the curriculum, identifying young mental health ambassadors and establishing Gender Sexuality Alliance groups in the post primary setting, as well as creating programmes that connect with parents, among other things.
Alison Fraser, Head of Funding from The National Lottery Community Fund, which made the conference possible by awarding a grant of £10,000 said:
“Our experience of working with communities is that when you listen, people, and particularly young people have amazing ideas to make things better. I am proud that funding raised by National Lottery players is being used to highlight mental health, 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. Well done to everyone involved in this project, making a real difference to the lives of young people in Northern Ireland.”
**Speech notes for Conference participant, Grace Doherty, a Primary 7 student at Drumlins Integrated Primary School, Ballynahinch. Grace is speaking at the launch event on Monday 20 January:
Good morning Ladies and Gentlemen and thank you for allowing me the opportunity to speak to you today. My name is Grace Doherty and I am a Primary 7 pupil at Drumlins Integrated Primary School in Ballynahinch. I feel very lucky to have attended an integrated primary school where I have been taught to respect others, value other religions and celebrate our differences. I hope to go on to Lagan College next year to continue my integrated journey.
I attended the mental health conference in October and thoroughly enjoyed the day. I enjoyed listening to other students and hearing their thoughts on mental health. I loved the song ‘I am strong like a mountain’ that Fresh little minds taught us, and I sang it for ages afterwards. I even had my mum singing it to help with stress levels when we recently moved house! I enjoyed the workshops where we sang songs and learnt relaxation techniques. 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’re feeling down.
I felt inspired by the video made by Drumragh College which shone a light on 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 Students Council in Drumlins I know that even children in primary schools can suffer with their mental health too.
I think schools spend a lot of time teaching their pupils how to be physically healthy maybe they should spend a bit more time teaching them how to stay mentally healthy too. Wouldn’t it be brilliant if every school had extra lessons on how to look after your mind and if all children could learn the relaxation techniques to help them stay calm. If we could help even the youngest P1 child realise they are special and help them love who they are then maybe, we could reduce mental health problems later in life.
We are very lucky in Drumlins to have a school councillor who talks to children who are struggling emotionally and helps them by listening. This is a small step in helping our school be a mentally healthy one.
The conference made me realise that mental health problems shouldn’t be feared or kept hidden as sometimes the easiest solution is to talk. I would like to finish with a quote from the Duchess of Cambridge, who is an ambassador for children’s mental health.
She says “A child’s mental health is just as important as their physical health and deserves the same quality of support. No one would be embarrassed about seeking help for a child if they had broken their arm and we really should be equally ready to support a child coping with emotional difficulties”
Thank you for listening and I hope you all have a wonderful day.
Speech notes from Conference participant, Freya Collins (11), from Lagan Integrated College. Freya is speaking at the launch event at Stormont on Monday 20 October 2020:
In life everybody is going to fall
I am sure every single one of you has had an experience that affected you in so many ways.
The important thing is you get back up!
I’m Freya Collins and I’m standing here today to make a difference.
To show everyone there is a bright side – no matter what.
I went to Listening … a mental health conference in Drumlins Integrated Primary School in Ballynahinch.
It was a really interesting day and I really enjoyed the speakers. I really enjoyed the speech from Fia who also went to an integrated school. It was really inspiring to hear from someone like Fia; she talked about her mental health problems and how she overcame them. It just proves that you can get recover from mental health problems; no matter how tough they are. I also liked that the pupils also had the chance to speak at and communicate with other people their age.
Before I went to the event, I heard a lot of people talk about mental health but I didn’t really understand what it meant.
I discovered poor mental health can be a lot of things:
Worrying about homework and exams
What your friends may say about you
Doing well in sports and a lot more!
I learnt at the conference that there is a solution to poor mental health
Ways you can solve mental health include
Relax, go for a walk, read a book, Have a healthy snack, drink water
Or go to an after school club
And the most important thing of all … talk to someone you trust
But you have to find something to reset your mind if you are worried
Personally, I like to play sports or talk to someone I trust
What I would like to see in the future to help school children’s poor mental health …
Teachers trained to help poor mental health
Support for parents
A chill out room in school for when you are stressed
And most importantly NO HOMEWORK!
I want to finish with a quote from President Obama
“If … something inside you feels like it’s wounded, it’s just like a physical injury.
You’ve got to go get help. There’s nothing weak about that. Its strong.
Thanks for listening to me and I hope you enjoy your day.
Future Initiatives : 10 Priorities emerged from the analysis of all consultation responses.
All schools should have:
- Training for all teachers in mental health and emotional well-being
- Student access to mental health experts
- Mental health and emotional well-being delivered through the curriculum
- A whole school approach
- Student mental health ambassadors
- Gender Sexuality Alliance groups at post-primary
- Programmes which connect with parents
- Resources to set up relaxation rooms for students
- A mental health first aid kit
- 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 on the IEF website www.ief.org.uk