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International Men’s Day - The Biggest Killer

TRIGGERS - Suicide / Self-Harm / Mental Health Illnesses

As we celebrated International Men’s Day on Friday 19th November, it is a pertinent time to remember that suicide is the single biggest killer of boys and young men in the UK.

Unfortunately we know the damage suicide has on communities and as a society we must do better to give our young men coping strategies to build and protect their mental health.

Our young men should not feel like a burden, they shouldn’t have to struggle in silence and they certainly shouldn’t feel like they don’t deserve help. We need to break the stigma around discussing mental health issues and we need to give support to every young man who needs it.

I believe the starting point to address this important issue is in schools driven by PE teachers and then taken to the wider school.

It can be daunting for PE teachers to step away from the traditional method of delivering PE, but when we look at how many young men are suffering and the lengthy waiting times to receive specialist support from stretched and underfunded providers like Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services (CAMHS), then PE departments can definitely play a leading role as part of a broad and balanced curriculum.

The power of relationships

We believe that PE teachers are well placed to use the power of PE and the quality of their relationships with these young men to make a vital difference in this important area.

They can use their exceptional relationships with these young men to help them open up about their mental health in a calm and supportive environment. By having these excellent role models bringing mental health front and centre of the conversation, it enables our boys to open up and feel listened to.

The power of exercise

Exercise is such a useful antidote to mental health issues. Research into trauma informed practice states that the brain stem is a key part of the brain and if that is anxious or alerted it will trigger the fight, flight or fright response. Repetitive exercise such as running, walking, swimming and yoga is one of the most proactive ways to reduce anxiety and calm the amygdala. This leads to calmer young men who can then access the cortex and limbic part of their brains that control their thoughts and feelings, and help them feel better about themselves and function more effectively.

By increasing the window of tolerance we are seeing greater staff/student relationships, improved behaviour, more productive learning and more importantly happier boys.

If young men aren’t getting these opportunities in school to calm their amygdala, then I am unsure where else in society they will receive them on a daily basis.

The power of knowledge

Alongside repetitive exercise, PE teachers can give their young men a tool box of self care strategies so that boys can own, manage and build their mental fitness so that they can be proactive about managing their own mental health, both now, and long after they have left school. This enables them to not only survive the 16-30 stage but thrive.

We can teach our young men how they can build their self confidence & self kindness, use worries as a positive, raise their aspirations, and develop healthy habits alongside helping them understand how to access the 4 happiness chemicals when they are feeling low.

By combining relationships, exercise and knowledge, PE Departments can be the front line of defence as part of a wider school programme that incorporates social, emotional and mental health counsellors, wellbeing zones, safeguarding provision, cross curricular links, social media campaigns and specialist support from external providers such as CAMHS.

My mission

My mission is to help innovative teachers help as many young people as possible to improve their mental health. We have set up Future Action to provide a whole school online teacher training course with a comprehensive range of editable resources so schools can create effective programmes within 90 days for all their staff with minimum impact on teachers’ workload and time.

I wanted to be proactive and tap into positive psychology so that children were better placed to be able to cope with mental health difficulties later on. I researched and studied numerous approaches such as Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT), Neuro-linguistic programming (NLP) and the Mental Fitness model as well as speaking to leading experts in the field to create a model that would be effective in a secondary school setting.

As a current Director of Sport, Health and PSHE, I road test these methods on a day to day basis and we have been startled by the impact that it is having on our relationships with our young men, their behaviour, their learning and more importantly their happiness.

The 9 Step Building Mental Fitness Roadmap

This programme has evolved from testing and been refined into the 9 Step Building Mental Fitness Roadmap.

The Roadmap gives inspirational PE Teachers a proven method to transform student and staff wellbeing across the whole school alongside a differentiated exercise programme designed to meet the needs of your individual students.

It is an early intervention programme for all, that reduces the chances of pupils suffering from anxiety and depression in the future, so that they can thrive academically and personally instead.

In Stage 1: we develop awareness of what building mental fitness is and how we can identify those students who are struggling with their mental health but sneaking under the radar to create a proactive culture around student wellbeing. Identifying students by using the mental health continuum has been particularly powerful for signposting those in need to expert help from our SEMH Counsellors and beyond.

It has helped us be proactive as a school and identify 3 safeguarding issues in young men that we would never have known about without this check and the 1-2-1 conversations that followed. We then introduce body scanning and journaling to help students develop self awareness. We have been stunned by how much our 12 year old boys love body scanning as a way to pause and reflect during a hectic day.

Stage 1 - Steps:

1 - Intro to mental fitness -🧘‍♀️

2 - Identification - 👁

3 - Self-awareness -🎗

In Stage 2: we equip students & staff with a toolbox of self care strategies to build confidence & self kindness, use worries as a positive, raise aspirations, develop healthy habits and help students understand how to access the 4 happiness chemicals.

Stage 2 - Steps:

4 - Confidence and Kindness - 💪

5 - Worries As A Positive - 🧠

6 - Habits 🗓

7 - Happiness 😃

In Stage 3: we show staff how to embed the programme across the whole school community in 7 different ways to have maximum impact.

Stage 3 - Steps:

8 - Whole School Impact - 🏫

9 - Next Steps

How we can help you

If you would like to join this movement of inspirational teachers but are not sure where to start, then the Building Mental Fitness course teaches you and your colleagues how to set up an award winning program with easy to follow videos and a comprehensive set of editable resources to save you hours of time planning and creating resources.

Why not book a free call to discuss your school's needs and how we could work in partnership with you?

To find out more visit our website at:

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