Mindfulness for Mental Health Resilience

Text: Nicole Schnackenberg | Illustration: Ingrid Sanchez

Mindfulness training in schools in the London Borough of Havering

It has been a very exciting and busy time here at Special Yoga Foundation for all sorts of reasons, not least due to the rolling out of our Mindfulness for Mental Health and Resilience training to more than 30 schools in the London Borough of Havering!

The Mindfulness Training programme, written and developed by our Founder and CEO Jo Manuel, was commissioned by Havering Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG) as part of their wider prevention strategy to increase mental health resilience in schools. CCG approached Special Yoga Foundation to design a programme with the aim of bringing mindfulness to schools through the creation of a series of twilight sessions for teachers and support staff in schools in Havering Council. According to the CCG, “The aim of the resilience building part of the programme is to provide teachers with the tools and techniques to equip themselves and their students in how to cope with and manage life’s adverse events.”

The need for such mindfulness and resiliency training is painfully clear. A study conducted by NASUWT (the largest teachers’ union in the UK) in 2016 surveyed over 5,000 teachers and found that:

• over three quarters (79%) had reported experiencing work related anxiousness;
• almost half (47%) of teachers have seen a doctor in the last 12 months as a result of work related physical or mental health problems, 14% have undergone counselling and 5% have been admitted to hospital;
• 86% have suffered sleeplessness;
• 73% have suffered from low energy levels;
• 10% of teachers say they have been prescribed anti-depressants to help them cope;
• 22% report increased use of alcohol, 21% increased use of caffeine and 5% increased use of tobacco to help them manage work-related stress;
• Shockingly, 2% of teachers say they have self-harmed as a result of work-related pressures.

These are disturbing statistics indeed and point to a growing crisis in the education system, within which highly-stressed teachers are both suffering acutely themselves and are, therefore, unable to provide the optimum learning environment and needed level of care and nurturing for the children. As Chris Keates, General Secretary of the NASUWT, emphatically explained, “High quality education cannot be delivered by stressed and anxious teachers.”

Moreover, there is a growing crisis in child and adolescent mental health across the nation. Increasing numbers of children within the education system are presenting with anxiety, depression, eating disorders, self-harm and a worrying host of other struggles. According to the Mental Health Foundation UK, “Mental health problems affect about 1 in 10 children and young people. They include depression, anxiety and conduct disorder, and are often a direct response to what is happening in their lives. Alarmingly, however, 70% of children and young people who experience a mental health problem have not had appropriate interventions at a sufficiently early age.”

To address this tragic state of affairs, Special Yoga Foundation has delivered six out of a planned ten Mindfulness for Mental Health and Resilience programmes, the final four of which will take place between September to November of this year. Three programmes have been delivered to primary schools, two to secondary schools and one to staff working with children with special needs. The full programme consists of three twilight training sessions of two hours which run either weekly or a few weeks apart; an exception is the Special Needs programme, which was delivered fully in one day. Teachers and support staff from primary, secondary and special needs schools in the Havering Council have attended these twilight sessions; the staff trained in this programme have been equipped with tools and techniques to practice mindfulness with their pupils.

In addition to conducting the training, we were also involved in data gathering and analysis to determine the effectiveness of the programme. We measured the change in teachers’ and students’ mental well-being, asking teachers and pupils to complete a questionnaire, both before the training and again after several weeks of mindfulness practice as learnt in the programme. The questionnaire was designed to help us to understand the state of their mental well-being. To do this, we used the Warwick- Edinburgh Mental Well-being Scale (WEMWBS) scale, which consists of 14 statements about thoughts and feelings, thereby measuring positive mental health including subjective experiences of happiness, life satisfaction, self-realisation and acceptance. NHS Health Scotland commissioned the development of the WEMWBS as part of the Mental Health Indicators Programme; it is a tool that continues to be widely used for evaluation of the impact of public mental health initiatives. We also used the WEMWBS scale for children aged 13 and older and the Stirling Children’s Wellbeing Scale for children aged 8-13.

To date, 51 teachers and support staff from 20 schools have been evaluated using the WEMWBS scale as part of this study. Excitingly, initial evaluation data shows a significant positive change in the mental wellbeing of adult participants after the training. Wonderfully, the mental wellbeing of participants showed a statistically significant increase following just 6 hours of mindfulness training; these are astonishingly inspiring and incredibly important results! Furthermore, the qualitative data we collected demonstrates the broad impact the Mental Health and Resilience programme had on staff and pupil wellbeing alike.

We will leave you with some of the comments from each group. If you are interested in learning more about the programme, or want further information about bringing this into your child or pupils’ school, please contact hannah@specialyoga.org.uk for more information or visit our section to request more information on Yoga and Mindfulness in schools. Namaste.

Pupil Comments

“I felt relaxed and happy and calm”
“Sleep!”
“Better”
“I felt happy”
“It made me happy”
“Making a good and happy me”

Teacher Comments

“There was a parent assembly and one boy was sad about his dad leaving and had a melt down… Once he calmed down he came back to the teacher and said his guard dog was barking and didn’t let the owl speak.”
“Best nights sleep I’ve had in a while after the first session”
“The flipping the lid exercise has made a dramatic difference on a particular class with challenging behaviors. Other teachers are surprised and are interested in training to bring tools to their classrooms.”
“I felt a mental shift and a better sense of calm using the breathing techniques.”
“Now I take the time every Sunday to go for a walk and practice the mindfulness outside and I really look forward to it.”

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