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The Importance Of Student-Lead Mental Health Initiatives

With so much uncertainty over the past year, students’ mental health is facing its own pandemic.

Whether students are struggling with their work, staying up into the early hours playing games and not getting enough sleep – or if the issues come from family problems, anxiety, anorexia or depression – talking programmes are incredibly effective in improving students’ mental health, mood and motivation. There has been a 161% increase in sleep issues; not to mention increased screen usage and a lack of exercise. Getting the basics right: sleep, screens and exercise - this is the foundation for strong mental health. They all impact each other. Through peer-to-peer honest conversation, these issues can be addressed. m-LAH founder, Hugh Abbott, says: lack of sleep and exercise, and screen addiction – this is the unholy trinity of mental health problems.” The change in routine from lockdown to going back to school will be difficult for many students, and there is a need to reset detrimental habits and sleep patterns. Establishing a regular bedtime routine, and making sure screens around bedtime are limited, is a good place to start. Students understand more than anyone else what their peers are going through. Children and teenagers know what a healthy lifestyle looks like, but instruction from figures of authority can occasionally create friction. Advice and support from their peers is more relevant, valued and appreciated, and can therefore lead to positive change. Due to the cost of a school counsellor, mental health programmes are often hampered by lack of resource - but student-led programmes, like m-LAH, unlock the talent within schools at a low cost. In a survey conducted by the National Education Union, 85% of senior leaders said they lacked the time to address the mental health and wellbeing issues that have arisen amongst staff and pupils during the pandemic, and 56% said they lacked the resources. As Dr Alex George says, 'a whole school approach like this is the most effective.' This creates an environment where well-being is promoted, and students develop trust with their own peer group as well as older students. For some students, lack of privacy - or a ‘safe space’ - at home, and difficulties accessing technology make school their only means of accessing support. Students leading their own mental health programme is the best way to address the mental health tsunami. As the Education Committee works to improve mental health support in schools, we must unlock the potential that students can provide to support their peers. There was a huge demand for improved mental health support in schools before lockdown, but far more now after the effects of the past year on students and their families. The government has promised further funding for schools' mental health support; the key really does lie in the students themselves learning how best to support each other. What is m-LAH? m-LAH, Motivation for Learning and Health, is a student-led talking programme, designed to enable honest conversations to help students stay motivated. m-LAH is different to other mental health programmes: it is delivered and facilitated by the students themselves. m-LAH has been designed to be simple, so that year 10s and above can easily learn how to become m-LAH facilitators, and this can filter down throughout the school. Emelia Bature, a sixth-form student at Sacred Heart in Camberwell, South London, explains m-LAH in her own words: “m-LAH is a talking programme where you talk about what you want to do and what you want to achieve”

“you can talk about anything; school work, skincare routines or taking your medication… anything”

Emelia goes on to say: “m-LAH helps with that sense of accountability”. M-LAH takes inspiration from motivational and behaviour change programmes such as parenting classes, dieting groups and addiction support groups. These motivational programmes are well-established, and evidence based. At the heart of all these motivational programmes is honest conversation amongst peers. m-LAH is honest conversation amongst peers. If m-LAH can help at your school, please get in touch. Visit or email Twitter: @MLAHORG

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