School children are constantly engaging with their peers on digital technology and social networking sites such as Instagram, Snapchat and Musical.ly. While it is sometimes harmful - reports of cyberbullying cases are increasingly commonplace - digital technology also comes with considerable benefits. Below are some of the top e-health tools that enable pupils, and those supporting them, to access mental health and wellbeing advice at the click of a button.
1. Chat Health
This school nurse text messaging service was developed by the Southern Health NHS Foundation Trust. ChatHealth is a confidential text messaging service which enables school children aged 11-19 to connect with their school nurse for help and advice on health and wellbeing issues, such as depression and anxiety, bullying, self-harm, alcohol, sex, drugs and body issues. Students will generally receive an instant confirmation message followed by a full response within one working day.
This is an anxiety management app created by the University of the West of England, Bristol. SAM helps users understand the causes of anxiety, monitor their anxious thoughts and behaviour, and manage their anxiety through self-help exercises and reflection. The app also allows users to share their experiences with the SAM community, and fellow anxiety sufferers, through a ‘social cloud’ feature.
Find it at: www.sam-app.org.uk
Created for Primary school children dealing with anxiety and worry, this app allows children to send a written or recorded message to one of four Worrinot characters: Chomp, Shakey, Rip and Stomp. The pupil’s message is then forwarded to a designated person at the school. The app can also be used by teachers as a tool to monitor their pupils’ wellbeing and provide early intervention where necessary. Worrinots was developed with the help of child psychologists, school staff and counsellors, and is Ofsted compliant.
An app for London-based 12-25-year-olds, this guidance and information resource contains details for accessing more than 1,000 local support services for mental health, sexual health, drugs, alcohol and smoking. Through the app, young people can also blog about their own experiences, read FAQs, jargon busters and information about rights and advocacy.
This platform and app, which offers ‘a voice for your students’, is an alternative way for students to report incidents of bullying, cyberbullying, racism, radicalisation, sexism, mental health and self-harm straight to their school, when they are unable to do so face-to-face. The app can be used by students (to report concerns directly to teachers), by school staff (to record incidents and behavioural concerns) and by parents (to report any concerns to school staff) Tootoot provides students with 24-hour support.
Find it at: www.tootoot.co.uk
Developed with Childline by teenagers, this wellbeing app is aimed at children and young people, up to 19. Features include: access to self-help articles and videos on topics such as body issues, exam stress, emotions, bullying, abuse, mental health and self-harm issues. There is a message board where children can chat to others about what’s on their mind. Children can keep track of their daily mood through the app and tailor content that’s relevant to how they are feeling. If a child needs more support, the app will content them with a Childline counsellor for a phone or email conversation.
Find it at: www.childline.org.uk/toolbox/for-me
The year for progress
With teachers’ workloads persistently increasing, technology will continue to play an important role in enabling schools to screen for, and monitor, the mental health and wellbeing of their pupils. Apps and websites are essential in making effective use of teachers’ busy schedules and maximising their time with children: allowing face-to-face contact to be as targeted and beneficial as possible.
Access to digital mental health support also comes with an array of benefits for children, such as the ease, cost-effectiveness and swiftness in which these services can be tapped into. Additionally, digital technology provides an opportunity for pupils to share experiences with a group of like-minded people, fostering a sense of community and camaraderie.
While professional face-to-face services are still an essential part of supporting young people with mental health and wellbeing issues, digital support may be able to reach children who are unlikely to engage with mental health services. According to a 2016 Centre for Mental Health report, entitled Missed Opportunities, children are waiting on average 10 years for effective mental health treatment. Lastly, digital technology brings with it a level of privacy and anonymity - key for young people who are not comfortable to voice their concerns in person.
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When it comes to safeguarding pupils online, some teachers will want to take a ‘better-safe-than-sorry’ approach to the issue. Keir McDonald, Chairman of EduCare, argues that the benefits of learning online outweigh the risks commonly associated with the internet.
As adults, we know that the internet is not a good or bad thing, just as there are no good or bad books (only well written or badly written books). It’s true that there are parts of the internet which are enlightening and breathtaking, and other parts which are deeply problematic. However, we don’t fear for our own safety every time we use Google or a social networking site. Why then are well-meaning teachers so frequently driven to alarmism when it comes to students going online?
Anti-bullying week is upon us and schools will be taking action to highlight the effects of bullying and, more importantly, offer some solutions as to what pupils and staff can do about it. Helping individuals to understand that bullying is a serious form of abuse encourages them to speak out sooner, to seek help and to protect themselves and others from the devastating effects of bullying.
The more traditional forms of bullying are still prevalent but in recent years there has been a huge rise in cyber bullying. Cyber-bullying can come from individuals or groups, via the internet through social networking sites, and targeting the victim direct through texting and e-mailing. The initial findings of a study conducted by the National Society for Prevention of Cruelty to Children (NSPCC), worryingly highlight the extent of bullying, cyber-stalking and unwanted sexual attention online. In these instances, bullying can also include aggressive language, threats, blackmail, racism, sexism and homophobia - often causing victims to self-harm and, in the worst cases, to take their own lives.
The recent survey by charity BeatBullying shows that children starting secondary school are the most concerned about being bullied. The research identified that 56 per cent of primary children feared they might be bullied for being too clever, or not clever enough. Forty-eight per cent surveyed were afraid that they would be bullied for not being good at activities like sports or for not having the latest phones or games. Fear of being bullied can eventually lead to unhappiness, loneliness and a drop in grades.
Though schools already have an anti-bullying policy in place under the School Standards and Framework Act 1998, it is important to revisit these policies to ensure that they are updated to protect students from new threats such as cyberbullying.
We all know that keeping pupils safe is one of the most important things schools do. In terms of e-safety, Ofsted recently recognised the efforts schools and parents have gone to to improve e-safety practice, and gave credit to their hard work in protecting young people online. Therefore, when the new Ofsted Framework came into being in September 2012, some schools may not have noticed the changes to e-safety. In fact, I have spoken to many colleagues who were not aware there had been any changes at all.
This article is designed to explain some of the main changes to e-safety and point you in the direction of useful resources, should Ofsted come knocking on your door. However, I do acknowledge that many schools will want to ensure that their e-safety practice is up to date, regardless of Ofsted!
As we regularly visit schools, we find ourselves in contact with the local police quite often, to discover crime in the area that we are visiting and the main problems with relation to bullying. A recurring theme in all regions is that ‘Cyber bullying’ as well as ‘underage drinking’ is a major problem.
In every school I visit, I observe students raising their hands to say that they’ve been victims of cyber bullying. When I ask why they think Cyber bullying is such an issue in society, the response is almost always ‘there are so many opportunities online to post anonymous comments now and it’s particularly used by people who don’t have the confidence to bully in person but when taking on a ‘cyber personality’ they feel this absolute sense of power.