Why we need a mentalising culture

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A recent article in the times about a young man named Matthew Elvidge reminded me of the indiscriminate nature of mental health problems among young people. Matthew was a high achieving pupil who seemed to be on track for a great future when he took his own life. His family set up a trust to promote awareness and support for young people around mental well-being in schools and colleges -www.thematthewelvidgetrust.com.
In my work with young people I see children from a wide range of social and economic backgrounds who are struggling to cope with the demands of life: friendships; academic requirements; social media and all that is associated with being a teenager.
Schools have little time and resource to devote to mental and emotional well being and are increasingly driven by improving academic results. As professionals working within education we see the results of the neglect of emotional and mental well being and development. We need to stop seeing academic achievement as evidence of good development or seeing academic and emotional progress as mutually exclusive – it doesn’t need to be either or because we are smarter than that.
As a Psychotherapist working in education I am interested in how we can introduce a culture of mentalising in schools and colleges. This is a simple concept which has proven results. Mentalisation requires all adults to help young people think about the impact they have on others minds and the impact others have on their minds. Once this happens a space grows for thinking, discussion and creativity. This impacts upon relationships, they are developed and strengthened and we all know that it is easier to teach and learn in a well regulated emotional state. But, it requires the adults to be brave and be open to thinking about emotions, teachers and staff need to be supported in managing the emotional needs of young people. If we can do this the benefits are huge for education and for generations to come.

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