World Mental Health Day: an opportunity to reflect on the year-round importance of taking care of our mental health
The 10th October is World Mental Health Day, which offers us an opportunity to pause and reflect on the importance of taking care of our mental health and supporting those around us to do the same — on an ongoing, year-round basis.
The importance of teaching pupils about mental health is emphasised in the statutory guidance on Relationships, Sex and Health Education (RSHE), which states that pupils ought to be taught that their mental health is just as important as their physical health and that looking after it ought to be considered a ‘normal part of daily life’.
Amid the hustle and bustle of daily life, it is sometimes difficult to pay as much attention to our mental health as we would like to. And it's for this reason that reminders to pause from time to time to carefully consider what types of emotions we are experiencing, or have been experiencing recently, are welcome.
While it is common for us to use broad, simple terminology to label our emotions, using more precise terminology to do so can confer a range of benefits. It can, for example, help us to make better sense of our experiences; diffuse the intensity of unpleasant or uncomfortable emotions; and recognise when we might need to seek support. These benefits are clearly advantageous for our mental health. Reflecting this, the statutory guidance on RSHE states that pupils ought to be taught how to label emotions using ‘varied vocabulary’. Research at the University of Cambridge has also found that young people are keen to learn more about how to improve their ability to differentiate between emotions.
Those who are able to distinguish accurately between discrete emotions are considered to possess better emotional granularity. Someone with greater emotional granularity may, for example, more readily recognise when they are feeling disheartened, rejected or overwhelmed rather than simply describing themselves as feeling upset or stressed. They may also more readily recognise when they are feeling enthusiastic, hopeful or grateful rather than simply describing themselves as feeling happy or good. This places them in a better position to regulate their emotions adaptively.
Pupils of all ages can be taught how to improve their ability to label emotions during PSHE education. While younger pupils might be expected to use broad terminology to do so (e.g. ‘happy’, ‘scared’ or ‘angry’), as their vocabulary, interoception (a lesser-known sense that helps you understand and feel what's going on inside your body) and ability to empathise develops, they should be supported to use increasingly more specific terminology (e.g. ‘astonished’, ‘apprehensive’ or ‘provoked’). Regularly supporting pupils to improve their ability to label emotions also has the benefit of normalising the notion that it is healthy to reflect on, and speak to trusted others about, emotions.
You can support pupils to cultivate their ability to label emotions using distanced learning. For example, you can encourage pupils to consider the varied, multiple or contradictory emotions that fictional characters may experience during a range of situations, such as ahead of celebrating a special occasion, performing in a school play or transitioning from one school to another. During such lessons, pupils can also be reminded that it is normal for the intensity of emotions to vary among people and that it is important to seek support if they begin experiencing particularly unpleasant or uncomfortable emotions1.
While using distanced learning during PSHE education lessons can facilitate opportunities for pupils to explore topics in an objective way, it is also important for pupils to be encouraged to use the knowledge and skills that they gain in a more personal way afterwards. As a follow-up activity, for example, pupils could be encouraged to use a diary or journal to decipher, document and navigate their emotions.
Of course, pupils’ vocabulary, and the fictional scenarios that will be most relevant or relatable to them during distanced learning, will differ within and between classes and schools. It is for this reason that it is critically important to tailor PSHE education lessons to the specific needs of your pupils. Our range of adaptable primary and secondary Mental Health & Emotional Wellbeing lesson packs will help you to do this safely, effectively and inclusively, and can be used year-round. Given that this topic is clearly a priority for pupils, parents and schools, we will be launching additional, evidence-based resources aimed at helping our members to meet the needs of their pupils in the new year.
About the author:
Joshua is a Knowledge Transfer Partnership Associate at the PSHE Association and the University of York. He is leading a project on mental health and emotional wellbeing in the primary PSHE education curriculum, which is informed by the most up-to-date psychological and neuroscientific research on this topic. Joshua previously worked as a nurse on a child and adolescent mental health ward in Birmingham and holds bachelor’s, master’s and doctor’s degrees in Education from the Universities of Oxford and York.
1. The statutory guidance on RSHE also states that pupils ought to be taught ‘where and how to seek support’.