Pat Sowa’s keynote speech at the Schools North East Healthy MindED conference focused on changing school culture to being more open and building positive attitudes of kindness. This message applied to staff as well as students, with the former primary head emphasising that this change starts at the top and that staff need to ‘model kindness’ to their students.
Sowa said “Education is not a set of exam results. It’s a lifelong journey towards understanding ourselves and our world. It’s not a tug of war between mental health and achievement. We need both to be right if we are educating the whole child.”
After losing her 17 year old son in 2017, Sowa has dedicated herself to raising awareness, building understanding and inspiring action to improve mental health in education.
She has a wealth of experience in this area as a member of the Tees Esk Wear Valley NHS Trust Suicide Prevention Advisory group, as well as trustee for Parentkind and an Ambassador for Papyrus, the young suicide prevention charity.
She has also worked with Public Health North Yorkshire to develop their resources to support self-harm and suicide intervention.
In 2017, Sowa set up Starfish, an organisation which offers workshops, training and talks for schools, pupils, staff and organisations on mental health.
Sowa acknowledged the challenges teachers face in dealing with mental health, “As individual teachers and leaders we probably have a range of responses from ‘it’s not our job, I haven’t got the time, money, staff’ to feeling like we want to help but don’t know how or are worried about making it worse.”
However, Sowa firmly believes that despite the challenges, schools should actively be implementing policies and culture to deal with mental health and wellbeing for both pupils and staff. She said “Pro-active mental wellbeing approaches in schools can make a difference because early intervention on most mental health issues improves longer term outcomes. And with 75% of mental health conditions presenting by the age of 18, this is very much the business of schools.”
Keynote speaker Professor Wendy Burn, President of the Royal College of Psychiatrists, also echoed Sowa’s emphasis on schools’ responsibility to proactively deal with mental health and wellbeing.
“We know that mental health care for our children is inadequate. This has been recognised by the Government and there are now plans to improve it. We will only be able to deliver this improvement if schools and mental health services work together so I am delighted to be speaking at the Healthy MindED conference.”
You can find more coverage of the Healthy MindED conference on Facebook, @schoolsnortheast and Twitter, @schoolsne.