The topic of the week is Mike Armiger – Mental Health – Chaos or Crisis?
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Mike Armiger joined us this week to share his expertise in the sphere of mental health.
His family background included fostering children who had experienced a variety of different damaging experiences and were often traumatised by these, so Mike grew up with a remarkable set of experiences and knowledge.
He felt that a lot of the children who passed through the care of his family had been let down by the education system and so he resolved to try and do something about this. He found himself training teachers at the age of 19 after not being happy to go to teacher training college for fear of what he had learned being overridden by a standard approach.
Mike found that he managed to get jobs based on his experience and expertise, despite not having the official qualifications. He ended up working with looked-after children and on the rehabilitation of children back into education and now consults with the Police regarding sexual crimes and disclosures. At the same time he runs a centre which provides sporting qualifications for young people and works freelance across a multi-academy trust on therapy through activity and sport.
Key issues around mental health for young people
The system and how it is structured is a massive issue. The structure doesn’t fit everybody and this is coupled with a massive stigma around those with mental health issues. Mike is a huge supporter of teachers but there is still a reluctance in some teachers to take mental health seriously.
High exclusion rates are also a problem in this group as is low self-esteem with affects a lot of young people.
The challenge of relationships between home and school – this is particularly important in the area of attachment.
Financial constrictions are also a big problem with front-line services being cut.
We have got to get away from the idea that [Mental Health] is none of our business and it’s something that really isn’t our job – we are here to educate children alone.
Mike believes that if the child is in our class, we are responsible for their emotional well-being, their education, how they respond to different things, how resilient they are. They have to be in the ‘right place’ to learn before any attainment at all can take place.
Mike points out that if your doctor told you not to drive a car with a damaged leg, you would listen – it’s visible. However, mental health issues are hidden and much easier to ignore. Trauma sometimes overwhelms children and cause them to form negative coping mechanisms which are very difficult to get back from.
Top Tips for Teachers
Track everything – from home to the moment they arrive in school and throughout the day. This means you can assess the effectiveness of any intervention like ‘time-outs’. Are they being effective – are they helping the child to re-integrate? This means you can identify patterns and barriers to learning. This is a juggling act and asks a lot of teachers but it very much worthwhile in the long run.
Develop regular contact with home – It’s impossible to know what’s happened the night before unless you have a conversation. Home can need support as well as school so that two-way conversation can be really helpful.
Remain in control at all times – If children see you are in control at all times, they will feel safe – this is particularly important when they are in crisis. You might have to be a bit flexible in your approach and expectations of how they work but remain in control of yourself. Ask questions and see if you can find out what’s going on.
Make them feel something – Place yourself in their shoes. Try to empathise. Children in these kinds of situations will seek rejection – it’s what they might be used to – it’s easier to cope with. We need to be clear we are not going to reject them.
Children who have suffered trauma
For children who are not ‘average’ due to mental health issues, standard systems will not work. Mike advocates an approach of lowering expectations, forgetting about attainment for the time being and focussing on helping that child to interact socially, form meaningful relationships and trust adults – these are the most important things for children who have suffered significant trauma. We can’t put them in a situation where they fail because it ends up not doing anyone any good.
Mike explains what he sees are the systemic problems in England at the moment around supporting these children.
These show notes only scratch the surface of a very rich episode. Mike and Paul share many other experiences and opinions so do listen to the episode in full!
Find Mike on Twitter – @MikeArmiger
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