By Catherine Newell, AnDY RAG facilitator

The Mental Health in Schools conference was made up of a day’s conference with a range of impressive keynote speakers, preceded by an evening event with a variety of practical workshops. I was lucky enough to be able to attend on both days.

Tuesday’s conference started with an introductory address by Vice Chancellor Sir David Bell. This was followed by talks from academics both from the University of Reading and elsewhere. One stand-out speech for me was that by Professor Lord Richard Layard, who noted that schools make almost as great a difference to emotional wellbeing as they do to GCSE grades, before suggesting numerous different ways in which mental health could be promoted in schools both now and in the future.

Even more impressive than the talks by academics were those by the Time to Change Young Champions. These four young people spoke clearly and openly about their experiences of mental ill-health (including OCD, anxiety, and suicidal ideation) as school students. Each of these individuals had very different experiences, but the take-home message from most of their talks was that teachers simply listening to them had a massive impact. Some also touched on the lack of mental health education in some schools’ PSHE classes, and the need for teachers to be trained in listening or mental illness.

The Monday evening event gave guests the opportunity to take part in workshops on a selection of important topics, from helping a young person who is self-harming to supporting students with ASD. I chose to listen in to a workshop on creating a practical whole-school approach to mental health, run by Teresa Day (Charlie Waller Memorial Trust’s CYP and Schools Programme Manager) and ex-teacher Lucinda Powell. It was interesting to learn about the government’s eight principles to promoting whole-school wellbeing, and the ways which these could be put into practice, such as promoting student voice, running targeted PSHE sessions and running socials for staff. It was very encouraging to hear a few of the ways in which many schools are already improving student – and staff – wellbeing, such as getting students to speak about their weekly highlights during tutor period, and organising “knit and natter” clubs for teachers.

At both events, I spent the breaks at the AnDY stand, speaking to conference attendees about our Research Advisors’ Group. It was wonderful to speak to so many people who have a real interest in improving mental health, and as well as those who signed up to our mailing list on the day, a lot of parents and teachers took away leaflets to give to their young people.

I was also privileged to be one of the judges of the poster competition, alongside a teacher, academics, and a representative of The Royal Foundation. It was fascinating to see what research is going on both internally and elsewhere, and all of the posters were of an incredible standard.

I found both days thought-provoking yet very enjoyable. I was pleased to see representatives from so many different schools and I’m hopeful that this conference will have helped schools to evaluate the ways in which they help young people’s wellbeing.