Mental health & wellbeing in schools


By Carys Owen (Cuckoo), School Partnership Consultant

Carys Owen

In order to help their pupils succeed; schools have a role to play in supporting them to be resilient and mentally healthy” Department of Education, 2014


Art has long been known to have therapeutic properties within the health sector, with art and music therapy a common practise in the health environment. Now educationalists are also looking at how engaging children in the arts from a young age can develop their early coping strategies and awareness. The arts can inspire and motivate children’s creativity – allowing them to find their voice and open up their imagination – as well as give them a space to explore challenging themes more openly outside of the classroom environment.


It is reported that 1 in 10 children aged 5 to 16 years has a mental health problem, with up to half of those experiencing symptoms by the age of 14. In a survey of 338 schools earlier this year, it was revealed that 55% of schools had experienced a large increase in cases of anxiety and stress amongst young people. Family breakdowns, exam stress at school, body image issues, the prominence of social networking, and bullying on and offline are reported as causes of this rising problem.


Earlier this month Artis attended the Mental Health Support in Schools conference which focussed on how schools can work together with the NHS, voluntary sector and local authorities to improve the provision and delivery of services that support mental health.


With the Government’s commitment to invest £1.4 billion in children’s mental health services over the next 5 years, schools and organisations came together to discuss what we can all do to help tackle a rise in mental health issues in schools.


Dr Pooky Knightsmith, educationalist and mental health ambassador, spoke about the importance of prevention and early intervention as a way to develop a culture of healthy coping and awareness at school. Dr Knightsmith also discussed how prevention and early intervention, through promoting positive mental health and wellbeing, was much more cost effective than the associated costs of tackling mental health issues once they’ve developed.


Dr Knightsmith’s top tips for prevention in schools were:


  • Signpost support so children know where to go if there is something they would like to talk about
  • Give teachers training in the early signs of mental health problems and name a mental health lead
  • PSHE – ensure high quality lessons which promote healthy coping strategies


In the World Health Organisation’s report on Prevention of Mental Health Disorders it discusses activities that ‘build emotional resilience, problem-solving abilities and self-confidence’ as being proven to reduce the onset of mental health disorders in children.


This evidence has developed alongside a growing understanding of the impact that the arts can have on health and wellbeing in schools. Arts Council England’s 2014 Evidence Review reported that levels of subjective wellbeing are greater amongst those with higher arts and cultural engagement, and that participation in the arts can reduce social exclusion and isolation as well as increase cognitive abilities.


In Artis’ sessions, our children are developing the intrinsic ‘soft’ skills of expression, self-awareness, self-esteem, resilience, inclusion, confidence, and peer engagement, whilst reinforcing their classroom learning. Giving children a space to be creative each week means that they are not only building their curriculum knowledge, helping boost academic results, but they are also developing coping mechanisms for life in and out of school.


Artis Specialists can also provide opportunities for children to focus on themes and topics such as relationships, bullying and community through bespoke Arts Weeks and projects to address specific issues relating to health and wellbeing.


Having an Artis Specialist in schools, whether they’re working across the whole school or with specific nurture groups, can support the wellbeing of children and is an effective way to aid positive mental health through prevention.


If you’d like to discuss how Artis can support your aims for positive mental health and wellbeing at your school then contact us on 0207 324 9880 or email



 “Riverside Junior School in Hebden Bridge has used Artis this year and have been delighted with the provision delivered on a weekly basis. The Artis Specialists clearly enjoy working with the children and the children, in turn, really enjoy and look forward to their time with the Artis staff. They have built confidence to have a go, independence and self-discipline in the children this year through their teaching of music and drama. Using Artis was a good decision and I can recommend them fully.”

Cathy Greenaway, Executive Head Teacher, Riverside Junior School


To find out more about mental health support that is available for schools, please visit Place2Be’s website. Place2Be is a national charity providing emotional support to children in schools.

18 Jul 2016