Banish the blues, schools told

THE mental well-being of young people is to be targeted as part of wide-ranging and ambitious plans to tackle mental health. "Emotional literacy" will be a key area.

The pound;4 million Scottish Executive programme hopes to make good mental health a "whole-population" issue, according to Gregor Henderson, director of the Scottish Development Centre for Mental Health, who has been seconded to lead the programme.

Malcolm Chisholm, Health Minister, will chair the programme's national advisory group. Other efforts will be directed at reducing suicide rates and launching an "anti-stigma" campaign.

Mr Chisholm admits this is an "enormous agenda" but said this week:

"Children's development in their early years and their growing up into confident, well-balanced, emotionally literate adults is a critical area for attention."

Launching a new magazine called Well?, aimed at promoting mental well-being, the Executive said not enough is being done in schools to teach emotional literacy - the ability to express emotion and communicate feelings in a healthy way.

"Evidence suggests that a social competence approach in schools is required, one designed to increase resilience, promote self-esteem and enable young people to avoid risk and maintain good health. The key components of this would include self-management, problem-solving, communication and resisting negative social influences."

Research has shown that what works best is a sustained whole-school programme. "Changes to the school 'climate' are likely to be more successful than brief, class-based mental health awareness and mental illness prevention programmes," the magazine states.

The new Scottish Health Promoting Schools Unit will be given a role. Margaret McGhie, the unit's director, said: "Of particular importance is the role of schools in encouraging emotional well-being, developing the resilience, optimism and hope which will help young people to do well in all aspects of their lives."

As part of mental health week on October 11, a one-day conference will be held on promoting well-being in schools, which will be addressed by national and international experts.

* Emotional intelligence is the theme of this year's Edinburgh education conference run by the city council in association with The TES Scotland. It will be held on November 1 at the Edinburgh International Conference Centre.

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