Mental Health Awareness Week 2021
What Mental Health Awareness Week?
The 2021 Mental Health Awareness Week takes place from 10-16th May. The theme this year is nature.
Mental Health Awareness Week started 21 years ago. It is an annual event where people in the UK are encouraged to focus on achieving good mental health. The aim of this week is to get people thinking about and talking about all aspects of mental health.
Why is nature the focus of Mental Health Awareness Week?
Nature has more benefits than ‘just’ providing food and cleaning our air. Time spent connected to nature helps humans feel grounded, it lowers our stress levels and can give us perspective on our lives. Slowing down and appreciating nature aids our ability to concentrate and improves our powers of observation.
Lockdowns and travel restrictions have meant many people have discovered a new found love of nature this year. Spending time walking around local areas has given us all the opportunity to notice and appreciate nature in a way we haven’t done before.
How do I start to improve my mental health?
Thinking about our health, whether it’s our physical or mental health can be overwhelming. The first step can be the most important. To help you make positive changes to improve your mental health, we’ve broken down our tips into three categories: whole self, whole family and whole school.
Whole self mental health
Adults, make time to prioritise your own mental health. When you are struggling it makes it very hard to support others.
When your fuse is short it is hard to respond appropriately and constructively to irritations. Spend some time getting to know yourself and what makes you tick. When you know what winds you up and what helps you unwind you can recognise your triggers and do something about them before you flip your lid.
When you are finding something difficult don’t be afraid to talk to the people around you. It may seem obvious to you that something is annoying and a flash point of arguments, but don’t take it for granted others have noticed or feel the same way.
Make time for yourself; this doesn’t have to be a great big undertaking. Some days, five minutes of peace sitting on a bench will be enough. Other days, you might need more time. Listen to yourself and meet your differing needs as best you can.
Try not to make arguments into a battle with winners and losers. Apologise if you react badly to something, and explain what happened and why. Talk about your feelings and name flash points. Do your best to join the dots and give yourself and others an insight into your reactions.
‘When I came home and I didn’t get a response to my greeting I felt really frustrated. I really dislike feeling ignored so I over reacted. I am sorry. I shouldn’t have shouted. Can we try that again?’
Whole family mental health
Make time as a family when you can connect with each other. Turn screens off and tune into each other. You could go on a walk, play a board game, draw together. This time doesn’t have to involve spending money, often the free simple things are best. The more connected and in tune with each other your family are the easier it is to work together. When working as a team you will all feel more heard, supported and appreciated.
Make time to be playful. Play lowers stress levels, relaxes us and helps us connect. Be spontaneous wherever possible and make the mundane fun. Remember the play should be fun for everyone, so take turns deciding what you will do and set boundaries you all keep to. Take time to catch falling blossoms, to blow dandelions, to watch ants marching, to be silly.
Make time to be relaxed in each other's company. As life slowly starts to return to normal try to hold on to some of those moments of calm stillness we experienced during lockdown. When lives are overly scheduled we lose the time to pause and think: this time is so important for our mental health and general wellbeing.
Model the behaviour you would like your children to copy. The more you practice naming and explaining feelings the better you and your children will become at regulating your emotions. Emotional literacy is really important. Give your children the vocabulary and skills to name, recognise and understand their emotions.
Set boundaries you all understand. If trips out are stressful try to work out why. If getting your children out of the front door leaves you exhausted, help them to feel excited about the trip and enlist their help with the planning and preparation. If your children go too far away from you when out, explain why they need to stay in view. If your children don't want to return home, give them clear time warnings and help them come up with some ideas of what they might do when you get home.
Don’t be afraid to learn together. Learn regulation techniques, learn synonyms for emotions, try, fail and succeed together and develop a growth mindset. Teach your children one of life's most important lessons: no one knows everything and that is ok. According to Friends of the Earth, ‘Seven out of 10 people admit they’re losing touch with nature. And more than a third of parents admit they could not teach their own children about British wildlife.’ So get yourself a bird identification sheet, a British wildflowers identification sheet or a minibeast identification sheet and start learning together outside.
Whole school mental health
This last school year has been like no other. Children have experienced huge disruptions to their education, and one of the biggest changes has been reduced social contact. Play is the work of children. Value play and playfulness, incorporating it into the school day where you can.
Think about your schools policies and critically examine if they foster an environment of authoritative acceptance. Get your school team together and ask:
Do staff and children know what the boundaries in school are? And the reason for them?
Does your school meet the needs of children both academically and emotionally?
Does your school adapt to individual needs as they arise?
Does your school build relationships on trust?
Does your school have a restorative behaviour focus? Or does it rely on punitive punishments and withholding rewards?
Are staff and children supported to learn from their mistakes?
Are staff and children encouraged to be curious?
Give children the tools to develop good mental health. Teach your pupils emotional literacy in class. English schemes like the Emotional Menagerie and lessons focusing on fulfilled lives are great places to start. Make emotions the focus of your PSHE lessons by seeing what discussions arise from these Photo Emotions Cards and encourage children to use a range of Emotion Synonyms in their lives.
Maybe most importantly of all, embed emotional literacy in the school. Hold a staff training for all members of staff. Train everyone to support children’s mental health.
Mental Health Awareness Week and Empathy
If you just make one lasting change this Mental Health Awareness Week, become more empathic. Respond to your own emotions, and the emotions of others, with understanding. Try to work out where the emotions came from and don’t forget to take as many calming breaths in the great outdoors as you need.