How schools can support students' mental health
Craig talks about the positive steps schools are already taking, and some other ways to look after student's wellbeing
School is a major part of life for people my age. For those who attend secondary school in Ireland we spend close to half a year in school (approximately 170 days). I believe that education is crucial for young people and we are extremely privileged to receive an education that opens up so many pathways for our future life. But I also think that school tends to have a negative impact on a students’ mental health and well-being and this is something we should focus on.
Looking after students mental wellbeing
According to “My World Survey 2” (a report carried out by the UCD School of Psychology), the top three stressors in an Irish adolescent’s life are school, exams and homework. Other findings in this report show that the levels of optimism and levels of life satisfaction drop significantly from 1st year to 6th year. I believe that schools need to take this seriously so their students do not have such a significant drop in their satisfaction, optimism, and overall mental health and wellbeing.
Positive steps schools have taken
I feel that it is important for me to acknowledge the pre-existing measures that schools currently have in place to help their students’ wellbeing before I mention what more needs to be done. Many schools, such as my own, have employed 1 or 2 guidance counsellors. These guidance counsellors provide helpful support for all students. They provide support for students in three main areas:
- Personal and Social Guidance
- Educational Guidance
- Career and Vocational Guidance
SPHE & clubs
Other measures that schools have in place are the SPHE course (Social, Physical and Health Education), as well as an array of clubs and sports teams. Lastly, most schools tend to have some form of mental-health related posters loosely scattered around the school.
While these measures in place are a positive thing and do show that schools are willing to put in an effort to try and improve their students’ mental health/wellbeing. Unfortunately I don’t think this is enough.
Updating the SPHE course
The SPHE course feels outdated. It dances around the subject of mental health without fully delving into it, meaning the conversation around mental health can remain uncomfortable and taboo. SPHE is not an exam subject. There is one forty-minute class a week with little to no homework, and the workbook feels like something straight out of primary school. In no way are these issues present because of those teaching the subject. With that being said, I do believe that it is important that the role of SPHE teacher is filled by people who are most qualified, such as a guidance counsellor. Also, most importantly, this subject needs to be had more than just once a week. If students focused on this subject regularly, and took their mental health as seriously as they do other subjects, I feel that would be overwhelmingly positive and would help normalise the conversation around mental health.
Meeting with your guidance counsellor
Another way that schools could improve how they engage with students around mental health would be to schedule mandatory appointments with the guidance counsellors. In most scenarios, talking to someone about your mental health can greatly improve your wellbeing and mental state. However, most young people find it difficult to take that first step to open up and talk to someone about how they are feeling. If schools were to arrange a monthly or bi-monthly appointment/check-in with a guidance counsellor for every student, it could seriously help those who were yet to talk about their mental state. This would yet again help in efforts to normalise the conversation around mental health.
If these changes are to be brought in, more guidance counsellors must be hired in every school. It is incredibly difficult for one or two guidance counsellors to effectively work with 600-800 students. I really do think that more guidance counsellors must be hired in order to share this heavy workload. While I am aware that more guidance counsellors will not make everything in school perfect, I believe it would be a great improvement on the current way schools deal with their student’s mental health and wellbeing.