The school’s role in supporting and promoting mental health and well-being can be summarised as:
In the next few slides, we discuss these elements in depth.
In terms of prevention at primary school, in order to process the pandemic period, it is important to follow three steps (Herman, 1997):
These activities can be carried out in the school context by first of all offering paths of social-emotional sharing.
It is paramount to build in each classroom/school an atmosphere of serenity and trust in others, including:
Finally, it is pivotal fostering coping strategies!
Coping strategies are a set of actions, both cognitive and behavioral, that the subject enacts to change and/or manage internal and/or external demands (the stressors).
It is thus an active process, a learned and conscious response that the subject uses to cope with difficulties and stressors (Folgheraiter, 2003).
All these coping modes, when supported and reinforced by present and sensitive adults, help define the child’s Self.
Indeed, the self-perception of being able to cope effectively with difficulties is linked to feelings of mastery and self-efficacy, of security and confidence in oneself and toward others.
The teacher and school are important sources of support for the development of resilience and coping strategies, as they are able to provide (House, 1981):
Stress should be regarded as an essential function of our organism, as it enables us to cope with demands, but also with external pressures and threats, i.e., it offers the advantage of adapting to our surrounding environment; this is essential for the survival of human beings (Lazarus and Folkman, 1984).
Thus, we can distinguish distress and eustress:
EUSTRESS: Stress that allows the activation of adaptive functions with respect to the problem, enabling us, for example, to cope with it by devoting the right amount of attention and energy to it.
DISTRESS: When the stressful situation requires an adaptive effort that exceeds the individual’s perceived possibilities and results in progressive stress that can lead to the deterioration of the person’s psychophysical defences, even and especially in the developmental subject.
A dramatic event such as pandemic is a collective stressor and therefore takes on certain characteristics that transcend the individual dimension (Barton, 1970; Bronfenbrenner, 1986; Mawson, 2005). At the same time, several children/teens experienced traumatic events.
PSYCHOLOGICAL TRAUMA: stress of extreme severity, which threatens mental well-being. The key aspect is the impact that the trauma-related thought or memory may have on the child/youth’s functioning in various contexts (friends, family members, school).
How can we identify signs of distress at school?
Those under “special observation” will be the “most fragile” (Flynn, 2006), including:
This special observation is because there are 4 domains of risk factors for the development of psychological distress that are closely interrelated:
Promote some of the skills in the different sections of the WHO document (2020) to cope with times of stress, in particular:
1.Ground yourself during emotional storms by noticing your thoughts and feelings, slowing down and connecting with your body by slowly pushing your feet into the floor, stretching and breathing, and then refocusing and engaging with the world around you.
3.Be kind. Notice pain in yourself and others and respond with kindness. Unhook from unkind thoughts by noticing and naming them. Then, try speaking to yourself kindly. If you are kind to yourself you will have more energy to help others and more motivation to be kind to others, so everyone benefits.
4.Making room, Trying to push away difficult thoughts and feelings often does not work very well. So instead, make room for them:
Communication is not only verbal, but also non-verbal:
you should ensure that the signals you are giving out through your body language are positive, confident, and engaging.
For example, making eye contact with students/participants when you are talking to them shows that you are being supportive and attentive. As you teach, you should use gestures to emphasise your words. This increases the interactivity of the lesson, making it more visually interesting and hence, more memorable.
Moving around the classroom/group while you teach can help to remove the barrier between you and your students/participants, and gives them less opportunity to zone out or get distracted.
Body language is also important when dealing with negative behaviour. To avoid being confrontational, ensure that you don’t stand directly above or in front of a student, point, or invade their personal space.