*CONTENT WARNING: SUICIDE, SELF-HARM, MENTAL HEALTH*
This blog post covers mental health related issues such as anxiety, depression, suicide and self-harm. If you feel affected by anything covered in this blog post please do refer to the mental health resources listed at the bottom of the post.
Mental health is a crucial component of our overall well-being, and it's just as important as our physical health. Because it's something we can't see, our mental health tends to be overlooked by both others and ourselves.
When we are mentally healthy, we enjoy our life and environment, and the people in it. We can be creative, learn, try new things, and take risks. We're better able to cope with difficult times in our personal and professional lives. A healthy mind also means we're better able to interact with those around us and deal with unexpected situations.
On the other end, when our mental health gets forgotten about, or we actively do things which are detrimental to our mental health, we can find ourselves in a place of struggle, stress, anxiety or depression.
Anxiety is currently one of the most common mental health problems adults can face, while in 2021, one in six children aged five to 16 were identified as having a probable mental health problem (that’s five children in every classroom).
Mental health problems affect both men and women, but not in equal measure
It's vitally important to understand the relationship between gender and mental health if we are to work towards a healthier society.
Three times as many men as women die by suicide; it's the biggest killer of people under the age of 35 and the biggest killer of men under the age of 50. Men report lower levels of life satisfaction than women (according to the government’s national wellbeing survey) and are less likely to access psychological therapies than women.
Meanwhile, rates of self-harm among young women have tripled since 1993, and women are more than three times as likely to experience eating disorders than men. Young women are also more likely to experience anxiety-related conditions than any other group.
These worrying statistics of men and women's mental health aren't coincidental, and point to wider issues at hand in relation between gender and mental health.
In our society, men are constantly fed the messages 'man up', 'don't be a girl', and 'boys don't cry'. Meanwhile impossible beauty standards and the swarm of social media are causing 90% of teenage girls to feel unhappy with their bodies.
Why should you care about Mental Health Awareness Week?
Hosted by the Mental Health Foundation, Mental Health Awareness Week happens every May (this year taking place from Monday 15 May to Sunday 21 May) and is an annual opportunity for the UK to focus on better equipping themselves with resources and techniques for looking after their mental health, as well as raising awareness of the critical importance of promoting a healthy mind.
This week is also a prime time to take a step back and reflect on the mental health of those around you. Whether that's your students in your classroom, your friends, family members, colleagues, or even strangers you pass on the street, people of all ages, backgrounds and genders have their own journey with mental health.
Think about the last time you were rude to someone, intentionally or not. Or the last time you had an unkind thought. What was your mental health like on that day? Had you had a bad night's sleep? Were you feeling run down from work? Had you spent too much time with a negative friend?
Your mental health is reflected in your actions, and it's important to remember that about those around you. When someone lashes out, it's most likely because they're dealing with something internally and are struggling to express it.
By being more mindful of the mental health of those around you, you can help identify potential issues early on and provide support and resources to help them cope. This could look like asking about and listening to their problems, connecting them with positive mental health podcasts or instagram accounts, and encouraging them to seek professional help if necessary.
It could also look like a text, a hug, a smile, or even just sitting in silence together. The cliché of the little things going a long way speaks loud truths in the context of mental health.
When someone is struggling with mental health issues, it can also affect their relationships, work, and daily functioning. By supporting their mental health, you can help them maintain healthy relationships, perform better at work or school, and have a better quality of life overall.
Mental Health in Schools
As stated at the beginning of this blog post, around five children in every classroom have a probable mental health problem. Because mental health is a crucial aspect of overall health and wellbeing, it's essential that young people are provided with accurate, updated and relevant information and support.
Teachers are in a unique position to talk to young people about mental health, and doing so can help reduce stigma and encourage help-seeking behaviours. This is especially true for the Andrew Tate fans in schools currently, young boys and men who are massively influenced by Tate's unhealthy and outdated idea of masculinity that revolves around aggression and suppression of emotion.
This mental health awareness week, why not try the following three steps to ensure your students feel confident and safe in discussing their emotions and wellbeing?
1. Create a safe and non-judgmental environment
Teachers need to communicate that they are available to listen and support their students without making them feel judged or criticised. Use active listening skills, be empathetic and validate students' feelings and experiences.
Of course, not all students will want to run and tell their teacher about the things they're dealing or struggling with, but being an active listener and promoting a safe environment in your classroom may encourage your student to speak to a friend; saying something out loud may all of a sudden seem less impossible.
2. Discuss the importance of seeking help and encourage self-care
Talking about mental health is important, but it is equally important to encourage young people to ask for help. Young men and boys especially face the pressures of unhealthy masculinity in the sense that they are constantly discouraged by society to talk about any feelings whatsoever.
Approaching the topic of mental health in a less curriculum-based and conventional way, such as through using drama or creative writing, might just be the tool to engage students in difficult but important topics.
At Voicebox, we currently offer our Masculinity & Wellbeing workshop, during which we use drama activities such as role play, games and script writing to facilitate productive discussions on the dangers of misogyny, toxic masculinity (although we prefer the term 'unhealthy masculinity' which we explain in a previous blog post), and the role of masculinity in mental health.
The workshop also enables participants to define key terms such as mental health, mental illness and wellbeing, and learn about what actually contributes to our wellbeing (good and bad), coping mechanisms, and the difference between mental health and mental illness.
Whether it's through a Voicebox workshop or a new lesson plan, encouraging active, on-your-feet conversations and exercises around mental health allows young people to reframe their approach to this vitally important topic, as well as making more of a memorable impact on their school day than a simple Powerpoint.
3. Normalise the question 'How are you?'
Finally, it is essential to provide ongoing support to students who may be struggling with mental health issues. Check in with students regularly and normalise this.
A daily check in might seem excessive, especially with secondary school-aged students, but making a simple 'How are we feeling from 1-10 today?' a standard start to the school day will encourage students to reflect on their own wellbeing, whether they feel like disclosing honestly or not. It promotes a healthy way of managing and navigating your own wellbeing.
If you're interested in booking one of Voicebox's workshops or assemblies which explore mental health and wellbeing, you can fill out a booking form here.
If you have a question or would like to chat through something with one of the team, you can book a free consultation here.
Mental Health Resources
If you or anyone you know are struggling with mental health issues, please utilise the resources below, and remember that someone will always listen.
0300 123 3393
03444 775 774
MENTAL HEALTH UK
RETHINK MENTAL ILLNESS