The Role of Education in Shaping Young People’s Mental Health – 5 Ideas for Your School

Elliot Foster
Graduate Organisational Psychologist
November 6th, 2019


As is now well known, there has been an increased focus on raising the awareness of mental health and making it more ‘acceptable’ for individuals to seek help and gain access to support earlier. Quite rightly, campaigns like Children’s Mental Health Week and Mental Health Awareness Day have helped to reduce the negative stigma that once shrouded mental illness. Thankfully, more children, young people, and adults are now finding the help that they need. Long may these campaigns continue, and although the future is bright, there is much more that can be done to help individuals feel more comfortable talking about mental health and be part of day-to-day conversations. 

Worth-it believes, alongside many leading experts in the field, that more focus should be put upon the wellbeing and mental health of children and young people, as around 75% of mental health conditions emerge by the age of 24 [1]. By providing children and young people with the necessary environment, skills, processes, and tools to benefit their wellbeing and mental health, mental illness can be prevented earlier. Not only is this important from an ethical standpoint, as it is surely the role of us as adults to look after the children of the world, but it is also more effective than providing support for children only once they become ill [2]. Therefore schools, where individuals spend on average 7,800 hours over their lifetime [3], can play a crucial role in developing wellbeing and increasing the mental health of children and young people.

Thankfully, there is an ever-greater push on improving the way that educational settings develop mental health and wellbeing. Last month, the Centre for Mental Health released the results of a collaborative project with the Children and Young People’s Mental Health Coalition outlining ‘How Education shapes Young People’s Mental Health’ in the UK. Alongside describing the current state of mental health and wellbeing in children and young people, the report outlined the impact that educational settings have on the mental health and wellbeing of children and young people, both good and bad, as well as current barriers and recommendations of how to improve the mental health and wellbeing of children and young people.

One of the report’s key recommendations was that schools develop a Whole School Approach to Mental Health and Wellbeing:

“Leaders in education should strive to create a whole school, college and university culture that promotes positive mental health for both pupils and staff.”

Centre for Mental Health – Making the Grade Report, 2019.

For those of you who are unaware, a whole school approach refers to a common, school-wide, multi-faceted approach to promoting the wellbeing and mental health of pupils [4], staff and whole-school community. Such an approach focusses on creating an environment that is productive in improving the mental health and wellbeing of those within it by embedding mental health and wellbeing across policy, culture, curricula, and practice [5]. By creating such a positive environment, not only does this develop the wellbeing and mental health of both staff and pupils [6], but it also leads the way to improved achievement, attendance and behaviour across the whole school [7].

As is the aim of educational settings to provide children and young people with the necessary knowledge and skills for them to flourish, a whole school approach also benefits individuals beyond their school life. By engaging with parents and the wider community, we can ensure that practices for good mental health and wellbeing are being continued at home and can become more sustainable. This is important, as when children grow older, moving schools and eventually leaving education, these day-to-day practices can become normal occurrences for them in their future life.

So now you’re thinking that a Whole School Approach to Mental Health and Wellbeing sounds like a great idea, but how can we do this in my school? As is any cultural change, the path is not easy, but Worth-it have some top tips to help you on that journey. These are summarised below for your ease, but you can find them in more depth here.

1. Address the barriers and identify positive outcomes.

By doing this, resistance to change can be addressed, barriers overcome, and positive outcomes identified meaning that wellbeing initiatives are more likely to be a success.

2. Develop a shared language and understanding.

Ensuring that everyone is on the same page, including governors and parents, is important. This can be done through group training. By ensuring that individuals understand why this is occurring ensures that it can become embedded within your school culture.

3. Map good practice and build on what you are doing well.

By identifying what you are doing well, wellbeing is developed, as well as showing what practice is effective at your school.

4. Make wellbeing visible.

A visible wellbeing strategy involves creating processes and policy that support the development of positive mental health. This can also include pupil-led initiatives like wellbeing ambassadors that ensure that the students feel heard.

5. Develop a whole-school approach over time.

While initial changes can be quick and relatively easy to do, developing whole school culture of wellbeing takes careful thought and application over time. But when developed effectively over time, such approaches to wellbeing become sustainable and reap rewards for staff and pupils for years to come. It is important to realise this when day to day school life begins to take over. 

I hope these tips have motivated you to learn more about how you can develop a Whole School Approach to Mental Health and Wellbeing. If you’d like to learn even more and keep informed of our upcoming open courses, you can visit our website and follow us on LinkedIn, Twitter and Facebook.


[1] R. C. Kessler, P. Berglund, O. Demler and R. Jin, “Lifetime prevalence and age-at-onset distributions of DSM-IV disorders in the National Comorbidity Survey Replication,” Archives of General Psychiatry, vol. 62, pp. 593-602, 2005. 

[2] K. Weare and M. Nind, “Mental health promotion and problem prevention in schools: what does the evidence say?,” Health promotion international, vol. 26, no. S1, pp. i29-i69, 2011. 

[3] YoungMinds, “Wise up to Wellbeing: Prioritising wellbeing in schools,” 2017. 

[4] R. Langford, C. P. Bonell, H. E. Jones, T. Pouliou, S. M. Murphy, E. Waters, K. A. Komro, L. F. Gibbs, D. Magnus and R. Campbell, “The WHO Health Promoting School framework for improving the health and well-being of students and their academic achievement,” Cochrane database of systematic reviews, 2014.

[5] Universities UK, “Whole University Approach”.

[6] Education Support Partnership, “Looking after teacher wellbeing”. 

[7] F. Jamal, A. Fletcher, A. Harden, H. Wells, J. Thomas and C. Bonell, “The school environment and student health: a systematic review and meta-ethnography of qualitative research,” BMC Public Health, vol. 13, no. 798, pp. 1-11, 2013.