Developing whole school wellbeing is effectively a change programme. Changing school culture, processes, ethos and environment can take time. Meeting this resistance can be disheartening even for the most enthusiastic and positive School Mental Health and Wellbeing Leads. However, we know that being prepared for these challenges and preparing strategies to mitigate them can ensure that your school Mental Health Lead is successful in their mission to develop whole school mental health and wellbeing.

What are the challenges mental health leads face?

Based on our experience working with school leaders and mental health leads we have identified common challenges. These fall into two main categories: personal challenges and organisational challenges which face them when leading change.

Organisational challenges mental health leads face

In order to sustain change, a whole school approach requires mental health and wellbeing to be ‘everyone’s business’. A ‘lack of buy-in’ from colleagues to play their role in developing positive mental health and wellbeing can be caused by one or more of these challenges:

Time/Capacity/ Feeling of one more thing to do! Workload is a significant issue for school staff and has a detrimental impact on staff’s capacity to deal with new approaches that support mental health and wellbeing strategies for all pupils.      

Negative attitudes. These are often driven by fear, stigma, lack of knowledge or lack of understanding in the importance of developing school mental health and its impact on pupil learning and staff performance.

Poor staff wellbeing. Good staff wellbeing is an essential foundation of a positive whole school culture. This is why provide our staff wellbeing programme is part of our whole school approach to wellbeing.

Resistance  to change. This can be caused by change overload, self-preservation, stress, and fear of the unknown, along with not wanting to change the status quo, personal routine or job.

Disparate team members. Lack of connection between team members, separated by remote working or school layout, can hinder their ability to work together on consistent, shared approaches to developing school mental health.

Training delivered in our Wellbeing Club courses equip Senior Mental Health Leads with practical strategies to overcome these challenges. Central to our approach is increasing the Lead’s ability to support staff wellbeing: this not only supports with buy-in, but forms a supportive positive culture to take a whole school approach forward. The Wellbeing club programme provides specific course materials and activities that members can use in their own schools or colleges to proactively develop a shared and consistent language and understanding of mental health and wellbeing.

Course activities, tools, resources, and coaching sessions provide the opportunity to learn methods that facilitate participatory approaches to change management. These include establishing focused working parties to address specific issues such as lack of awareness, stress, stigma or workload.

Personal challenges mental health leads face

Leads also experience personal challenges which are mainly addressed through the coaching nature of our ongoing support. These include:

Feeling isolated in role. Recruiting a team of wellbeing champions to help develop wellbeing  is essential, especially in a large school. Developing whole school wellbeing is not up to just one person, it's everyone's business. The Lead's job is to rally the troops and get everyone on board, making wellbeing part of core school business. Developing an external peer support network can provide objective opinions, reassurance and troubleshooting. That is why we incorporate group coaching and peer network in our support programmes for Mental Health Leads, such as our Wellbeing Club or Wellbeing Pathway Programme.

Little/ No Budget. This is always an issue in schools. It's important that Leads are supported to share ideas that are low cost and high impact and can be applied consistently across the school or other educational setting.

Lack of time and conflicting priorities. Coaching is proven to be the most effective personal development tool in educational settings. Using a coaching progress log and goal setting sessions helps Senior Mental Health Leads establish quick wins that make a big difference and maintain progress towards sustaining whole school wellbeing.

Lack of confidence. Many leads suffer with imposter syndrome: the feeling that they aren't qualified for the job or they're going to get caught out. Developing personal self-efficacy to plan and implement change through our Pathway Programme supports Leads to know they are exactly where they need to be and that they do have the skills, knowledge and ability to make a real difference in their schools.

Overcoming challenges as a mental health lead

Getting these barriers out on the table is a really important step towards change – failing to acknowledge them will often mean your attempts to implement school wellbeing will falter or, ultimately, you may lose the motivation you need to make a big difference in your school. Our number one tip to address these barriers is to arrange an SLT meeting and get all the reservations, challenges and resistance out in the open. You can't deal with something until you face it. Once you do this you are then able to start developing solutions to gradually overcome any barriers you may face.

Good luck!

And, if you need support:

Join Us for Training and Support

You can gain support on how to overcome these challenges by joining our DfE-approved SMHL Pathway Course. This course inside our Wellbeing Club enables Leads to advance their individual capacity and confidence to lead whole school wellbeing and positive mental health. To find out how to access £1200 funding from the DfE to cover the costs of joining Wellbeing Club for a year access our FREE funding information session.

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