Supporting Mental Health in Schools During the Pandemic Dr Vicky Eames, Consultant Clinical Psychologist Riverbank Psychology
When I was asked to write this blog about supporting mental health in schools as we entered the second wave of the pandemic in the UK, I have to confess it triggered a bit of ‘imposter syndrome’. As a clinical psychologist I am spending most of my days on Zoom, working remotely with adults, children and families, shielded not only from the virus but also from the day to day reality of the lives of many vulnerable children in schools. With a husband who is a teacher, two kids in school and one who has just left home to go to university, the worst part of the current situation for me is my experience of that other well-known ‘syndrome’ of the empty nest variety! How can I advise staff who are putting their health on the line to keep schools going for the sakes of all our children at this hugely challenging time? My first thought was to want to acknowledge the skills, knowledge and experience that educational professionals already have and that they are developing and growing through the amazing work that they are doing right now in schools. Educational professionals are finding themselves at the forefront of responding to children’s mental health during this second wave of the pandemic. Talking to teachers I know, I am hearing how tough it is to be supporting children through such strange times, at the same time as having to navigate drastic changes in working practices, while also balancing their own personal response to the reality of the situation we are living through. During the lockdown, my colleague Mariangels Ferrer and myself, spent time talking with some of our fellow mental health professionals. Within the unique circumstances in which we found ourselves, we recognised that we were being impacted in many of the same ways as the people who were consulting us and wanted to explore ideas for how to respond. Following these conversations, and similar conversations with young people identifying as autistic or neurodiverse, we were inspired to co-create resources to share the ideas from these conversations with other people. So, I thought I would take this opportunity to share some of these ideas with educational professionals, as I think taking care of our own mental health is probably the most important way that we can support children and young people.
"Nobody is passive in front of a traumatic event" - Words from Mental Health Professionals
"I think at the moment people need just to be humane and offer support, friendship and hand-holding because this trauma is still happening.”
“I’ve noticed wrestling with tensions between wanting to be there and do something and jump in and having to balance that with stepping back and sometimes doing nothing. It is sometimes helpful to create that space."
“The situation has enabled me to appreciate connection and to prioritise that more”
"Recognising each of us, we are all going through a similar thing from a slightly different position, so who can I sit and share that with?”
"I feel as though I’m feeling things more intensely at the moment... it’s made me question all sorts of things about what or who we need in our lives, simple things like cooking or eating a meal together I have valued that much more
than I usually would"
“The elements of our experience that are soulful when we clear away some of the clutter, I find it an opportunity to experience things in a soulful way rather than just cooking the tea and scoffing it down vs investing more of yourself into it”
"I have noticed the birds start singing in the trees, I didn’t notice that before and I have started taking pictures of them”
“You notice the things that are the same and the things that are different, which can be informative in terms of what you value, what are the things that you want to re-claim when you get the chance”
"The idea of being compassionate, to have a flexible plan, to take one day at a time but not be too boxed in my your expectations know things are going to change so take one day at a time"
"I’ve learned to hang out with my kids more... before Covid we spent a lot of time doing our own things and this has got us to live together again, to eat together and being brave for them has helped sustain me. Prior to this we were
all working at full pelt, we all were, modeled by me. I don’t know what that will look like after this, maybe more family walks?”
“Whether simplicity is one of the ways of resisting this culture of consumption?"
Mythbusting and Survival Guide- Words from young people identifying as autistic or neurodiverse
"I like under-represented populations to be given a voice."
"It’s made me realise how much of a busy life I lead and that even though I have autism I still manage to do it."
"Being self-compassionate that this is a global crisis and I am doing the best I can with what we got."
"Remembering past times playing basketball and looking forward to future times. I think about my drama sessions with my friends. I think about brownies, try to remember all my activities that I enjoy."
"I tried to think that it’s not always going to be like this, we will get through it."
"Talk to people and get help if you need it."
"If you’re stuck in the house, create different spaces for different things so I’ve split my desk in half and one is work and one is play."
"Take time to think about how much you have achieved in your life. Autistic people learn resilience because if you’ve got through all of that you can get through this."
"Keep doing the things that mean the most to you."
Who has helped us most
"My tutor . . . she knows that I’m really strong and determined and I’ve got a fire in my belly. A fire that never really goes out."
"My support network understanding how hard it is for me. For them to acknowledge that I will find it hard reassures me that I am allowed to find it harder than other people. "
"My mum and dad have helped by noticing when I’m stressed by bringing me back to earth or the present."
"Close friends have helped when the mood has got a bit low. My mum who has also kindly helped provide financial assistance while also lending a sympathetic ear. As much as I enjoy my self-sufficiency there is only so much
you can deal with on your own."