Assessing Positive mental health, wellness and resilience in our younger generation — How can teachers measure this accurately?

Back in the 1990s, there was a general ambivalence towards the explosion of Psychology as a taught subject and about how students gravitated towards what was perceived as an “easy” subject to pass. Given the seriousness of a mental health “ticking time bomb” we face (see our previous blogs at www.myappa.it/news/) whereby high levels of stress and anxiety are conditions prevalent among our younger generation, understanding and teaching psychology is fundamentally important in the 21st Century. Actually, understanding how ill prepared teachers are to deal with this and what will help them cope with the added stress at their work is more important.
Teachers are attempting step in to mop up the emotional damage caused to a generation of young adults enduring record levels of poor mental. Indeed, the job of the teacher is becoming more of a social worker in dealing with the range of pupils’ personal issues and e.g.
* an alarming increase in self-harming — figures from the charity Self-harm * * UK based on A&E attendance suggest an increase of 70% over two years to 2014.
* 48% of 11–14-year-old girls avoid everyday school activities as they hate how they look.
* Child and adolescent mental health services have suffered budget cuts of £85m since 2010.

The matter is complex with the teaching profession having to take on a higher level of pastoral care but without much formal training or even guidance, and that puts additional pressure on teachers to perform at their best. Teachers often feel out of their depth when faced with these conversations on sensitive issues. In short, teachers have to deal with serious mental health issues with little in the way of training, resources, external support or budget.
In the UK, the picture is largely one where the teaching profession has been left to its own devices in dealing with the issues of pupil “wellness”. Teaching as a profession is tough but all of this has put a strain on teachers’ own mental health. A recent survey by the National Union of Teachers (NUT) found almost half of teachers had sought help from their doctor for stress related conditions in the past year.

Experience Scotland, England & Wales and the USA — a snapshot.

England and Wales : Teachers were issued with guidelines for addressing mental health issues and pupil questionnaires, teacher training toolkits and mental health factsheets to help identify potential issues. The Westminster Government appointed Natasha Devon as its “Mental Health Tsar” and she concluded that if the government really wanted to solve children’s mental health crisis, it needed to acknowledge the causes : poverty, academic pressure, lack of quality family time, cuts in CAMHS (Children and Mental Health Services) and social media. Although she was relieved of her duties in May 2015 for supposedly being critical of the Government’s inadequate approach to tackling the genuine problem of mental health among the country’s younger generation, A Children & Young People’s Mental Health & Wellbeing Taskforce was set up. It reviewed the delivery of mental health services after it acknowledged that many children and young people with mental health and emotional difficulties did not receive timely, high quality, accessible or evidence-based support. An extra £1 billion was promised to help until 2020 but without a specific plan as yet, in particular to help hard pressed teachers cope with the issues.

Scotland : With poverty being identified as the top reason for the mental health problems for children, the Scottish Government retained the services of its own “Poverty Tsar”, Naomi Eisenstadt, who was previously critical of the Government’s interventions and policies to tackle the poverty issues that Scotland faced. Coupled with this, there is additional funding for mental health services being made available by the Scottish Government which has also introduced the “Getting It Right For Every Child” (GIRFEC) initiative. This includes having every child between the ages of 12 and 18 assessed for his/her wellbeing against the 8 “SHANARRI” Wellbeing indicators : Safe, Healthy, Achieving, Nurtured, Active, Respected, Responsible, Included. The issue for Scotland is the definition of “wellness” and how that is to be measured; it is subjective, emotions-based and generic. A clear picture about the “measurability” of wellness is yet to emerge with teachers across the country adopting their own methodologies. This is apparent from the various conferences and seminars teachers attend on children’s mental health and mental health and wellbeing in schools.

USA : In the USA, where there over 40 million people suffering from mental health and anxiety issues, there is a transformative change taking place through the introduction in 2016 of the “Whole School, Whole Community, Whole Child (WSCC) Model. This aligns the country’s health and education services in the interests of the child in a school setting and follows on from the passing of the “Every Student Succeeds Act” (ESSA) in 2015 to provide every student with a well-rounded education but also to close the attainment gap in order to fulfil his/her potential. The WSCC Model focuses its attention on the child, emphasizes a school-wide approach, and acknowledges learning, health, and the school as being a part and reflection of the local community. Each child, in each school, in each community deserves to be a HEALTHY, SAFE, ENGAGED, SUPPORTED and CHALLENGED. This essentially goes beyond Scotland’s GIRFEC Initiative in giving an added weight to the central role of teachers. There is a formal recognition of “Employee Wellness” (i.e. teachers) and the need for additional resources to enable them to play that role fully. However, the same issues about how teachers are expected to “measure” their students against the central tenets of the WSCC Model remain : healthy, safe, engaged, supported and challenged.

APPA — An Essential Assessment and Measurement Tool for Teachers and Young Adults.

What the above approaches forget is the starting point for every child and also for every teacher. Giving young people the chance to talk and be listened to is fine in principle. But what happens when the child doesn’t want to speak or doesn’t want to engage? How do you get to the root of the issues for that individual? As parents and teachers know, a child or young adult will not always confide in them when they are troubled. So, to prevent young people falling into a vacuum where they cannot access help or even talk about their issues, APPA Scotland has come up with a novel and creative solution, the child-centric app APPA. Instead of having to sit down with a parent or teacher, the young person can engage with “Alex” the avatar through the mobile app.

APPA is not a diagnostic psychological tool but is designed to be a key part of the teacher’s armoury to assess children’s resilience and wellbeing, to figure out where the problem issues lie for each individual. Importantly, the questions posed in the app are validated by Dr. Michael Ungar, one of the world’s leading authorities on children’s resilience (http://www.michaelungar.com/) and who also co-directs the Resilience Research Centre (http://resilienceresearch.org/). The app — not the teacher — engages the child in a conversation to answer questions in their own time using a mobile technology that is second nature to them. This interaction elicits more accurate results and generates a detailed baseline Resilience Report on where that individual’s resilience and wellness lies at that moment based on questions in the following areas :

* Resilience
* Community
* Peer Relations
* School
* Personal Risk
* Internalising Risk

APPA is objective, not subjective and provides a common baseline quantitative analysis that removes the vagaries criticised by the recent Supreme Court ruling on the matter i.e. it’s measurable not emotion-based vague statements about “wellness”.

The Resilience Report presents the teacher with a huge amount of critical data generated through the pupil’s direct engagement. This is an enormous help to the teacher who can then simply concentrate on an Action Plan to guide that child in how to make things better in his/her life.

* Want to try APPA? Contact the team at info@myappa.it or call us on +44 (0) 141 847 0774.
* For more information on APPA and previous Blogs dealing with children’s resilience, visit https://myappa.it/
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