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Positive Psychology for Children and Young People

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MhIST provides positive psychology training to high school children in Bolton. This is delivered by a series of interactive sessions during the school day.

Outline of the intervention.

The project gives young people the techniques and tools to become more emotionally resilient whilst also introducing them to some of the concepts of positive psychology. The main topics that are covered are Mental Health, Stigma, Happiness, Wellbeing, Resilience, Hope and Mindfulness. Structured discussion gives young people the chance to talk about how they can help themselves and others. Overall, it is participative, fun, and educational.

The main aims of programme are:

  1. To boost flourishing.
  2. To reduce psychological distress.

The sessions are delivered at participating secondary schools in Bolton. It is run with form sized groups of up to 30 people. The year groups that can be involved are years 7, 8, 9, 10 or 11. The programme will take place over 6 or 10 weeks in a single school term for up to two hours per week.

Development of the intervention.

Students from the University of Bolton and the University Technical college have designed some of the elements. Year 11 students from Bolton cohorts of NCS (National Citizenship Service) and Bolton Moorland district explorer scout units (ages 14 to 18) have designed others.  They have all given their ideas about how they would like to learn about how to keep themselves emotionally well and deal with the problems of poor mental health. The participants in the project are encouraged to be actively involved in directing and steering the project.

The project is designed as a framework so that the young people influence how it unfolds. The participants in the project are encouraged to actively direct and steer the project. Young people are empowered to make all of the activities even more fun, playful and participative.

Participants have the opportunity (if they want) to help in the delivery and bring their own style and personalities to the project. Participants and other young people are actively engaged in arranging and facilitating the creative evidence that the project achieves its goals.

Does it help?

The project makes a real, measurable difference to young people’s emotional wellbeing, help young people and school staff to become more aware of the early warning signs, alleviate pressure on (NHS and Social) services, and reduce the stigma associated with mental illnesses.

We use a variety of psychological measures to establish the effectiveness of the project. Questionnaires investigating flourishing, exam anxiety, fear of missing out (FOMO), anxiety and depression are given.

The results from a previous intervention (where the participants had exceptionally high levels of clinical distress prior to the intervention) show that in terms of total flourishing a 31% improvement was achieved. Likewise, there was a 21% reduction in psychological distress.

The stories of the young people and in particular their experiences of poor mental health, who have taken part, are captured through their own writing or drawings. If young people want to express themselves through other media they can. This is an example of what they young people said about their participation in the project:

There will be opportunity for the young people to discuss, in private, any concerns or worries after each week.  The project facilitators will link with the school safeguarding team to ensure that no young people are left psychologically vulnerable.

Improving emotional health and wellbeing

During the project the participants learn how to manage their own mental health and emotional resilience. They will be able to understand what it is all about, how to spot signs of deterioration in themselves, what to do about it and where to go for more help. They will learn mindfulness relaxation and practice it.

Interactive learning. The weekly sessions provide information about the topics as previously mentioned. The sessions are interactive, engaging and fun. The way that each session works is that the topic will be introduced and there will be a delivery of information. The method of delivery may be as a talk, as a skit or short drama or a film. This could be followed by a discussion about how to develop emotional resilience. A smaller group based discussion about the topic will precede a large group discussion or feedback session.

Participation. Mindfulness relaxation is delivered in a participation format, everyone will takes part so that they know how to do it. Learning about and practicing other coping mechanisms such as remembering to talk about it and using online tools.

Structured discussion. The participants have the chance to talk about mental health, the signs that mental health is deteriorating, their experiences and how they can help themselves and others.

Homework. Actually, this is about practicing what has been learned rather than doing some writing to hand in! It could be as simple as do some exercise.

The lasting benefits

The project has quantitative evidence that the benefits to mental health and emotional resilience are achieved by the end of the sessions.

To reinforce the work which has been delivered we expect schools to provide a mental health (or emotional wellbeing) section on their school online resource (Moodle, Blackboard, etc.) so that these and other young people will get the ongoing benefit of them.

The creative work that participants create (videos, songs, etc.) will be available for using so that they can remember what they learned.

These are just some of the graphics created by the young people during the intervention when they were thinking about how they would like their world to be:

The project provides many ‘Take home tips’. These are shared with the participants during the sessions. They are simple ideas that can be easily remembered such as ‘try not to stay indoors all day’ and ‘do something you enjoy’.

The sessions help to build resilience by doing an exercise resulting in an affirmation card for each participant. This is something that everyone can take away to remind themselves of what they have achieve during the project.

Outcomes for the young people

The participants were very happy to tell us how things were going and what we could do better.

Things they likedThings that could have been better
How to deal with stressMore help with sleep
Felt like I could talk openlyLearn more coping methods
Creative sessionsMore practical help
Box breathingLonger sessions
TeamworkMore individual discussions
Helping my anxietyTime at the end of sessions to calm down
Mindful eatingMore social anxiety help
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