Victoria English is a lecturer in the School of Care at Crosskeys Campus Coleg Gwent. She has taught for twenty five years in the further education sector, and is a mindfulness/positive psychology coach and mental health first aid (MHFA) instructor.
Within my school we place a significant emphasis on building our student’s mental health. Resilience, mindfulness and stress control are part of the core curriculum.
Like their peers, my students with learning disabilities are suffering the consequences of cyber bullying, living in a world where lives are filtered to appear flawless and where image can mean more than integrity.
Young people with learning disabilities are at much higher risk of developing mental health problems, with up to 40% likely to develop a mental health problem. This makes them around four to five times more likely to develop a problem than children without a learning disability.
Young people and families report that they don’t feel listened to. They feel professionals too often don’t believe them, often seeing only the learning disability and not their mental health needs (something known as diagnostic overshadowing).
In essence, too many young people with learning disabilities are not fully seen for who they are. The vast complexities that exist within us all are overshadowed for these young people, simply because they are living with a learning disability.
Only around a quarter of young people with a learning disability and a mental health problem have had any contact with mental health services. This must change. Rather than constantly firefighting, we need to be stepping in with support. This can only be achieved with a shifting of focus onto prevention and the early identification of mental health challenges.
"The mental health of young people needs to be highlighted and awareness raised. Many do not have a voice. We aim to make their voices heard."
After experiencing burnout and intense anxiety I was lucky to be referred to an excellent occupational therapist who insisted on a full treatment plan rather than just the anti depressants which were prescribed by my overstretched GP.
This was my turning point, which led me to developing a toolkit of mindfulness and positive psychology which transformed my mental health. I became evangelical about the amazing effects of these strategies and started to employ them within my classroom.
Action for happiness provided a wonderful framework within their Ten Keys to Happier Living- written by Vanessa King. My students quickly developed a passion for daily sessions of meditation. Those who at first were reticent now asked for the calming Mindfulness interludes. They embraced the concept of the ‘Happy Cafe’ where information was imparted, random acts of kindness were initiated and members of the campus community connected.
The curriculum has become vastly enriched with engagement in local community charities. The students’ confidence and self-esteem have soared through the uplifting achievement of helping others. Not dwelling on oneself but looking outward has broadened their outlook.
Rather than coming from the deficit model, we teach that we can change the way our mind thinks. We can lay down new neural pathways which focus on strengths.
The flight fight response is minimised as a first response, with students becoming less reactionary.
Students are encouraged to look for the positive, overcoming the natural negativity bias of the human brain and a can-do philosophy is actively promoted.
Tutors promote all aspects of healthy living from swimming, gym, and walking, as well as a nutritious diet. The students are given a personalised curriculum which has a holistic focus. The whole individual is evaluated and the goals are to maximise the opportunity to achieve a fulfilled, healthy, independent life.
Mental health, just like physical life, operates on a continuum. We try to give students the information which they can draw on in times of stress.
As a school we are also keen to bring awareness of the lack of support our students face.
The mental health of young people needs to be highlighted and awareness raised. Many do not have a voice. We aim to make their voices heard.
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