Children’s Mental Health Week
Children’s Mental Health Week is an awareness week, taking place every February, that aims to empower young people and equip them with the skills to understand and support their mental health. It was first launched in 2015 and is championed by the charity Place2Be, with a different theme being the focus each year. This year’s theme is ‘My voice matters’ and this is about empowering young people with the tools they need to express themselves.
A lot of work has been done to raise awareness about how emotional wellbeing is just as important as physical wellbeing. Various mental health charities such as the Mental Health Foundation and Mind have provided opportunities for adults in the UK to come together to focus on and prioritise their mental health. However, Place2Be’s work to give children and young people a voice and make learning about mental health accessible to them is paramount to providing a positive quality of life to our future generations.
What can we do in schools?
I am passionate about this subject, and I ensure that raising awareness and promoting positive mental health for children is an integral part of my role. I firmly believe discussions linked to this topic shouldn’t be limited to one week a year so I have created a PSHE curriculum which provides pupils with the skills to understand and manage their own mental wellbeing. However, each year I have organised a whole-school event that celebrates the theme for Children’s Mental Health Week, bringing together pupils, staff and members of the community to mark the occasion.
Using the themes
The themes for Children’s Mental Health week are a great way to provide a focus for the topic and plan activities around this. We always begin the week with a whole-school assembly to introduce and explain the theme. The theme is promoted and classes take part in activities linked to this. For example, the theme in 2019 was ‘Find your brave’ and children were invited to bring something to school themed around bravery, such as an object, photo or story. I provide templates for pupils to record their thoughts linked to the theme and work is displayed around the school hall during an event that parents and carers are invited to at the end of the week. This is usually a coffee morning or afternoon tea, where the theme for the week is presented and discussed with parents to support their understanding around the importance of facilitating and supporting a positive mental attitude for themselves and their children. In 2023, the theme was ‘Let’s Connect’ and we encouraged parents and carers to make meaningful connections with their children. This meant that the event was a no phone zone and we provided books and board games for pupils and their families to connect together.
Stories are a great way to develop an understanding about the theme and really hook the children! During Children’s Mental Health Week, we have a bank of stories that are specially wrapped up and delivered to each class every day for the teacher to read during story time. The special delivery really builds an added excitement for story time! The books are different each year as they link directly to the theme, like these examples from 2022’s theme ‘Growing and Changing’.
Keeping ties during difficult times
The Covid-19 pandemic and lockdown, which resulted in school closures, had an impact on children’s mental health and well-being and required professionals to adapt how we support young people. This proved challenging as schools didn’t have the opportunity for direct contact with many pupils during this time. As a leader and champion for mental health awareness, I considered how I could continue to promote this agenda despite the obvious barriers and challenges. The theme in 2020 was ‘Express Yourself’ and I created a booklet with information about activity ideas which was available in the school office for parents to collect for their children. I provided all of the resources for the activities so pupils could do all of the activities at home. The activities included making a ‘Breathing Buddy’ to help with mindful breathing and a nature walk bingo template. I also created a keepsake with a yellow ribbon, to help pupils still feel connected to school. We invited pupils to ‘Dress to Express’ at home and send any photos to the school phone and email accounts. We received some amazing interaction with this and feedback about how much pupils loved taking part in the creative activities from the booklet at home. During a time when lots of things on the world were paused, I found it extremely important to ensure that raising awareness around children’s mental health continued as it was needed more than ever during this time.
To end Children’s Mental Health week our ‘Star of the week’ award is adapted to celebrate a ‘Mental Health Champion’, where teachers select a pupil that has engaged particularly well in the theme or demonstrated personal growth or strength towards understanding their own mental health or that of others. This is a great way to end the week in a way where achievements are celebrated.
It is important to remember that the subject of mental health is not something that can be limited to one week of the year. It needs to be discussed and promoted all year round to achieve the aim of improving how our children and young people understand and tackle struggles with their emotional well-being. However, it can’t be overlooked that holding events like this create unforgettable opportunities and experiences for the community and create a positive change for their mental health and wellbeing.
Visit Place2Be’s website for information and resources about Children’s Mental Health Week:
With many thanks to Laura Brogan for this inspiring article.
Laura is an Assistant Headteacher and member of the EuHu Teacher Board.