Reaching out to children for Mental Health Month

Over a period of a month, 150 children from across the NE region are taking part in our educational workshops, introducing them to the subject of mental health and wellbeing. This is in an effort to address a worrying increase in the number of children being diagnosed with a mental health issue such as anxiety, depression and self-harm.

The workshops, funded by us and delivered to children aged 10-11 by 4M Puppetry, have already taken place at Redhall Primary and Northwood Primary Schools in Darlington, and are planned for Southwick Primary in Sunderland (15 May) and Easington Church of England Primary, County Durham (22 May). Using the art of puppetry, the aim of the workshops is to destigmatise the subject of mental health and ensure that children taking part come away knowing it’s ok to talk about how they feel and where they can get help. Feedback from the first two sessions has been encouraging. One child from Redhall said: “’I feel I’ve learnt a lot about what I can do to make myself feel better, like meditation or drawing a picture”, while a child from Northwood said they really liked the workshop, asking, “Are you coming back again tomorrow?”

Teachers are also responding positively: “That was really great. I think it is brilliant work you are doing”, said one teacher from Northwood, while a teacher at Redhall said: “The children I didn’t think would sit still and listen, have done; it’s amazing.”

Dr Jenna Charlton, Research Associate with 4M Puppetry, said: “We explore how the children might be feeling – the things that might happen to trigger those feelings – and make them aware of how to talk about it, and who to talk to. We aim to provide them with a ‘mental health toolkit’ to take with them, full of ways they can help themselves when they feel down or anxious; it’s a ‘first aid kit’ for their minds, you might say.”

Our Project Manager, Kerry McCormack, added: “These workshops are starting conversations which can continue at home. It’s crucial that parents keep the channels of communication open and encourage their children to speak up when they’re feeling low.”                                                                          

We decided to facilitate the workshops following our consultation with practitioners, commissioners, teaching staff and children. In particular, the feedback from teachers identified the need for early intervention because the transitional period of a child moving from primary to secondary education appears to be a critical time when mental health issues can escalate. It’s a time when children will be moving from one to another school, possibly in a different area, resulting in loss of friends, meeting new students and teachers in new environments, plus sitting exams, of course.

Our Director of Operations, Nicola Crawford, says: “These workshops are the start of our drive to raise awareness of the issues relating to the mental health and wellbeing of children and young people. Once we’ve evaluated the workshops, we’ll be looking to raise the funds needed to deliver into more schools across the region. We’re also keen to continue to fund further research into children’s mental health and will be putting a call out for research applications in the next two months. We feel that this work is a significant step towards helping our region’s children face the wide range of issues and pressures whilst they are growing up.”