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A mental health nurse has gone back to school to help young adults in Worcestershire cope with stress and anxiety during high-pressure exam periods.
As part of an initiative funded by Worcestershire Advance, a non-profit organisation, Carie Workman has visited 11 schools and sixth forms.
“I’m putting in coping strategies around revision time because they’re just feeling so overwhelmed”
She has led assemblies on mental health, coaching strategies and coping skills – she also provides tailored advice in a drop-in clinic.
Ms Workman, a registered mental health nurse and therapist, said she thought every school should provide dedicated mental health support for this particularly vulnerable population.
She told Nursing Times: “I think it’s so important. I think it’s extremely vital. I think it should be on the top of [schools’] agendas.
“[It’s] so ingrained, looking after our physical health, but what about our mental health as well? It has such a big impact.”
Students aged between 16 and 18 years old are often juggling schoolwork alongside other stressful undertakings, such as learning to drive and part-time jobs.
As a result of this accumulating pressure, Ms Workman explained, young people could easily fall into a downward spiral.
“They don’t feel motivated so then their mood starts to feel low, and then they’re really tearful because they are so stressed.
“I’m putting in coping strategies around revision time because they’re just feeling so overwhelmed with all the work they want to do – and then the added pressure because they want to get the best grades they can.”
Ms Workman helps students by teaching them to recognise their thoughts, feelings and emotions.
She uses a thermometer gauge ranging from five (feeling at their worst), to three (feeling okay) down to one (at their best).
“It’s about getting them in tune with their own thoughts and emotions – and this is something they can take through university, apprenticeships or throughout the rest of their lives,” she said.
Ms Workman also recommends using relaxing scents and even photographs to keep calm.
“[It’s] so ingrained, looking after our physical health, but what about our mental health as well?”
Alongside stress, young people at this age can experience identity issues and face life-changing decisions about their future.
Many students will be considering university, apprenticeships or taking a year out – but Ms Workman noted that a lack of careers advice could exacerbate stress levels.
So far, her support has been so popular that she has been asked back to two schools to give advice about a career in mental health nursing.
Figures from the Office of National Statistics found that the suicide rate for women aged between 10 and 24 had gone up by 83% in 2018 – and among boys it had risen by 25%.
After road accidents, suicide is the second biggest killer of young people.
The number of children applying to child and adolescent mental health services (CAMHS) has more than doubled in the past two years in England.
Because of these worrying trends, Ms Workman believed support for children had to arrive much earlier so that the chances of developing severe mental health problems were reduced.
She added: “I think kids need to know more about their thoughts, feelings and emotions from a very young age.
“So they know if they’re crying that it’s fine, if you’re upset it’s fine, understanding about friendship and how you communicate – [it’s about] putting all those things in place.”
Schools taking part include Chadsgrove school, Stourport High School and Sixth Form, Arrow Vale RSA Academy, North Bromsgrove High School and Sixth Form, The De Montfort School, Worcester Sixth Form College and Wolverley CE Secondary School and Sixth Form.
While there are school nurses at some of the campuses, Ms Workman thinks there should also be a dedicated mental health professional.
She noted that not a lot of schools had the funding to provide counsellors, so instead they relied on teachers to be trained as safeguarding leads.
However, they are not equipped to deal with some of the more severe problems their students may be facing – such as self-harm and suicidal thoughts.
“I would also like to see the safeguarding teachers having support as well because their stress levels and their anxiety is high,” added Ms Workman.
“I’ve spoken to teachers about this. They’ve got no filter, no outlet – and they’ve got nobody to talk to about this.”
In a bid to try and boost mental health support in schools, the government has introduced a new “education mental health practitioner” role.
The practitioners are not required to have a background in health and they undertake a one-year training course before starting in the role.
The government is in the process of rolling out a second cohort of the practitioners, who work across education and health settings.