Healthy MindED 2023

22nd May 2023

This Thursday, educators from across the region gathered at the seventh Schools North East HealthyMindED Conference 2023 in Darlington. The conference was an inspirational day of sessions covering mental health, wellbeing and challenging behaviour in schools.

Additionally, this week was Mental Health Awareness Week so schools in the North East have been raising awareness for Mental Health as well as engaging with this year’s theme of understanding and coping with anxiety.


The Schools North East Healthy MindED Commission works towards supporting schools to understand and mitigate the factors affecting young people’s mental health.

The aims of the Commission are:

To improve the mental health of children and young people by recognising its impact on them;
Enable  school communities and associated services to identify, manage and mitigate the factors that underlie poor mental health; and
Equip schools to empower children and young people to understand mental health, and through increasing their resilience to grow and develop their potential.
The Healthy MindED Conference offered practical support for those in school at the sharp-end of the complex, many faceted issues of Mental Health, Wellbeing, and Challenging Behaviour; their impact on students, communities and, increasingly, on school staff.

The pandemic has had a massive exacerbating impact on children and families’ mental health.   More than one in six children now experience mental health problems compared to one in nine in 2017 and there is more and more evidence highlighting the link between school attendance, pupil behaviour, and underlying mental health problems in children and their parents.

Mike Palmer

The Healthy MindED Keynote was delivered by Mike Palmer, from 3 Dads Walking. Mike shared the inspirational and heartbreaking story of his journey since losing his daughter Beth to suicide during the pandemic.

Mike informed delegates that suicide affects more people than you’d ever imagine and the power of being open and talking to people going through similar experiences. During his session Mike called for an emphasis in teaching life skills in school to help prepare young people for their life in university and 3 Dads Walking’s aim of making Suicide Prevention a compulsory part of the national curriculum.

Mike and 3 Dads Walking have raised over £1,000,000 for Papyrus through fundraising including walking throughout the country, meeting people who have lost overs to suicide along the way.

Voice of the Pupil

During the Conference, Colin Lofthouse, CEO of SMART Multi Academy Trust and Schools North East Trustee delivered the session ‘What children in northeast schools said about the state of their own mental health and wellbeing. Are we listening?’. The session introduced the findings from the Voice of the Pupil project.

One of the main strands of the Healthy MindED Commission was the Voice of the Pupil project. The project developed a framework for engaging children and young people in discussion about mental health. Staff from schools across the region were trained and supported to carry out focus group discussions with students.

The full report can be read here.

Still Human

The Main Sponsor of Healthy MindED 23, Still Human, launched this week.

Still Human is part of the educational support services organisation The Edwin Group, and delivers workshops on a wide range of topics including Stress Management, Mindfulness, the Menopause and Rest, as well as delivering Wellbeing Champion training.

Julie Liddell, Managing Director of Still Human spoke to delegates at the start of the conference and kicked off the day with a morning meditation. Julie has worked with staff in many settings from Primary through to FE and has found that whilst staff in education are undoubtedly superhumans, they are still human nonetheless. In her workshops she shares evidence-based knowledge and engaging practical strategies, all designed to make being a human a little easier.

The Support You Deserve

The Conference was a huge success leaving delegates feeling recharged as they went back to school on Friday.

Chris Zarraga, Director of Schools North East said:

“I think it is very much worth remembering that the pandemic is not actually over; as the experiences of the last 2 terms in particular have more than shown. The narrative currently gives the impression that schools are, or should, be back to ‘normal’. But the pandemic is most definitely not ‘over’ and it has had a disproportionate impact on the North East’s school communities.

Newspapers and the media are increasingly devoting time to stories about “lockdown’s hidden toll”, with statistics showing that over 1 million schoolchildren a year require mental health support; and that levels of anxiety are soaring amongst the young.

Across the region, schools have seen exponential rises in general student absence, persistent absence, serious behavioural issues, permanent exclusions, and a crumbling of the support services around schools.  All of which have enormously ramped up the pressure that school staff have to work under.

So in light of that, it is fantastic to see delegates taking the time to gather at the conference and  connect with each other. Times are no less difficult, no less tiring than last year, with challenges mounting; but what the Autumn and Spring terms and those challenges have certainly reiterated is what an amazing job our schools do and how vital they are to communities and children forgotten by other services. Thank you from me and the Schools North East team and Trustees for all of the work our region’s schools do to support their students and staff.

Education is so much more than a narrow set of stats or an Ofsted grade; it’s about ensuring that every child in this region has the education and the future that they deserve, the chance to thrive and go beyond the limitations of their background or geography. As an organisation, Schools North East will continue to do its best to ensure that schools get the support they deserve so that they can give their students the support that they deserve.”

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