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What have we learned about stress from
Mental Health Awareness Week 2018?

Richard Anderson

During Mental Health Awareness Week, HeadStart Wolverhampton organised, lead and supported a wide range of activities around the city in support of the theme for the week of "Stress: Are We Coping?". In the build up to Mental Health Awareness week, and during the week itself, we spoke to young people and adults about their experiences of stress, what causes it for them, and strategies they've developed to try and deal with it.

Here were a few of the activities:

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So what have we learned from people who've spoken to HeadStart about stress? In the sections below, we'll share a few insights, with relevant video and audio, links and quotes. (If you'd prefer to navigate this information section by section - which is highly recommended for mobile users - please click here).

As always, if you'd like to join the conversation with HeadStart about emotional well-being, resilience and mental health, please follow, share and respond to us @HeadStartFM on Twitter, FaceBook, Instagram or YouTube. Let us know what you think!

Stress is a normal part of life.
Having high levels of ongoing stress is a problem.

At our popup shop in The Mander Centre on Saturday 12th May, we asked visitors to share what causes them stress onto our "Stress: Are We Coping?" tree.

A wide range of causes were shared by the adults that spoke to us:

  • relationship or family difficulties
  • money worries
  • the expectations and pressures that people place upon themselves to succeed as parents, workers or students
  • issues with work and work-life balance.

Young people spoke about the pressure of exams (the popup shop was held the weekend before the Year 6 SATs exams and a number of young people mentioned this, unsurprisingly) but also about anxiety around their body image, the impact of social media, and the effect of bullying.

Here's a quick video showing some of the leaves from the "Stress: Are We Coping?" tree, typeset in graphical form to make them easier to read!

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We recorded audio conversations with some visitors to the popup shop, and the visitors we spoke to described a range of stress issues:


Stress is an almost universal experience for people, and is a normal part of life which can motivate us to work hard at home or school, and to succeed. Stress, in small doses, is healthy. However, when high levels of stress continue for prolonged periods of time, the impact on mental health can be really serious.

Some of us have developed personal strategies for
reducing or coping with stress

Visitors to the popup shop shared a range of strategies or activities they used for dealing with stress, including: arts and crafts, improving their personal organisation and time management, and spending quality time with family or friends:

One set of techniques for dealing with stress mentioned by visitors to the popup shop was mindfulness. On Wednesday 16th May, HeadStart organised a mindfulness workshop at The Bob Jones Community Hub, our community base in Blakenhall. Here are two videos from the session, an overview of the workshop:

... and and interview with the session leader, Adam Dacey of MindSpace, about mindfulness and how it can help young people:

It's of interest that the adults we spoke to during Mental Health Awareness Week seemed to be more 'self-aware' of the strategies they use to reduce stress than most of the young people.

Wolverhampton schools have begun to explore ideas for supporting young people in dealing with stress, including introducing techniques such as mindfulness. HeadStart teams in schools and the community are supporting the development of these approaches through programmes such as SUMO, HEROs (peer support) and the HYPE programme.

In a world in which stress is an inevitability (and in which schooling itself is inevitably responsible for some of that through the need for examinations!) supporting young people in both understanding stress, and in developing their own personalised techniques to deal with it, would seem to be a logical supplement to the usual PSHE curriculum; dealing with stress is part of developing a healthy lifestyle

Key issues for young people

In conversations with HeadStart, young people have identified key moments in their lives which are key triggers of stress:

The Transition from primary to secondary school

The move from primary to secondary school has been identified repeatedly as a key time for young people:

Primary and secondary schools work really hard on smoothing the transition from primary to secondary schools, but we may still underestimate the impact of this change on young people.

The education system in the UK has a concept of school choice embedded within it, but one by-product of this is the disruption of friendship groups that often occurs at the end of Year 6 as pupils scatter to different secondary schools for Year 7. Do we underestimate the impact of this upon the wellbeing of pupils?

Issues at home

Issues at home are a common theme for many of the conversations we've had with young people. Many of these are what we might consider be normal 'tensions' in the relationships between a teenager and their parents.

Some young people, however, experience very challenging issues. One example is the challenges associated with being a young carer:

Previous HeadStart podcasts at The Nightingale Centre have explored very serious issues, including abuse and neglect, and the impact these can have:

Friendships and relationships

Friendships and relationships both cause stress, and support young people during times of stress. Young people spoke about the pressures of forming and sustaining friendships, and also about the challenges and expectations of teenage romantic relationships.

Listen to the Year 8 and Year 9 at Moreton describe some of their experiences:

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Developing awareness of sexuality and gender identity

For young people who are lesbian, gay or bisexual, or who are questioning their sexuality, additional stress are associated with the emotions associated with that: confusion, guilt and more. 

Here's an animation we made last year, based on conversations with the X2Y Youth Group about their experiences as growing up as an LGBTQ+ youngster:

Exam pressures

An obvious one, but exams can cause young people lots of stress. (Mental Health Awareness Week this year coincided with the nationwide Year 6 SATs assessments)

Moreton School recorded a whole podcast on the theme of exam revision, tips and dealing with stress during the exam period:

I feel very stress free and happy. I love it, that’s it!
— A young person at Loxdale, following a stress-busting session during SATs week

Our HeadStart Young Person Engagement Coordinators Tara and Sam worked with young people in Loxdale Primary and Moreton School on causes of stress, and exam pressures featured prominently here - here are their insights:

'Fitting in' and social media

Young people have repeatedly spoken to us about the pressures they feel to represent themselves in certain ways in social media. Here's an example from the young people of Moreton School:

... and here is a blog post written on the theme by HeadStart Ambassador Cristina:

... and more

These issues are just a few of the causes of stress for young people, but were the ones that featured most commonly during Mental Health Awareness Week. Other causes include:

  • racism and discrimination
  • bullying and cyberbullying
  • not speaking English; struggling to engage with local services and support.

How HeadStart is helping: community and school programmes

Commissioned services for young people and families

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Our partners at Black Country YMCA, Gazebo Theatre and the WV10 Consortium are leading programmes for young people and parents / carers in our four HeadStart target areas around the city, with programmes including drama, dance, talking therapies and discussion groups, sport and fitness, cooking and more:

The sessions for young people are designed to develop self-confidence, team working and self-esteem, to support young people in speaking openly to their peers and trained professionals about the challenges they face, and to put them in touch with additional support, as required.

Sessions for parents and carers focus on supporting parents in developing family relationships and parenting techniques, and in supporting one another as parents in our communities.

The Newshounds team talk to young people and professionals in Bilston East about their experiences of working with Gazebo Theatre in HeadStart-funded activities and interventions.

Adult Heros

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Adult HEROs is a programme lead for HeadStart by Wider Learning, and works with parents to support them in understanding emotional wellbeing and mental health in young people. The programme includes training in topics or strategies such as SUMO, parenting skills, and online safety:

Parent Champions

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Parent Champions is a peer support programme in which parents and carers support one another, raise awareness of mental health issues in their communities, and contribute to local decision-making about HeadStart provision.

The HeadStart SUMO programme in schools

SUMO (Stop, Understand, Move On) is a programme based on the SUMO book by Paul McGee, and is a set of personal strategies and thinking approaches for young people and adults that they can use to motivate themselves, refocus on priorities, and maintain perspective during difficult times.

One of the strategies of SUMO is 'Remember The Beachball':

This is one of a series of four animations created to illustrate the first four SUMO themes: see this YouTube playlist for the rest of the animations we created.

HEROS and HEROS+

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HEROS and HEROS+ are peer support programmes for all Year 6 and Year 7 students in HeadStart schools, and train and mentor young people in a set of skills to support one another. Some young people are selected to progress to HEROS+, where they learn advanced peer mentoring skills

Mini Ambassadors

Mini Ambassadors are groups of young people from Year 7 to Year 9, based in HeadStart secondary schools. They work as advocates for HeadStart and for emotional well-being and mental health within their school and communities. Supported by the HeadStart Young Person Engagement Team (HYPE), and working with trainers and local experts, they develop their skills and understanding and work towards accreditations:

HeadStart Ambassadors

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HeadStart Ambassadors are older young people (aged 17 - 25) who work alongside the HeadStart team to raise awareness of mental health and emotional wellbeing, supporting community events with the public and programmes in schools.


How HeadStart is helping: digital and online support

HeadStart Support and Guidance Site

The HeadStart Support and Guidance site provides selected resources on a wide range of emotional wellbeing and mental health themes.

Resources on the HeadStart Support and Guidance site for Mental Health Awareness Week

Access to Zumos

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Zumos provide online audio resources to support young people. We are supporting the roll out of the Zumos service into all HeadStart secondary schools. Zumos resources are also now directly integrated into the HeadStart Support and Guidance site.

e-Quipped, Digital Ambassadors, and Digital Ambassadors Plus programme

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With our partners in the Learning Technologies Team, HeadStart supports the understanding and development of our young people, parents and professionals in making the best of the digital tools and websites online.

Young people and educational professionals can work towards accreditations to recognise their achievements.

The HeadStart podcast

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HeadStart supports young people around the city in sharing their thoughts and experiences through our HeadStart podcast.

Visitors to our website can stream podcasts from our podcast section, or subscribe on Apple Podcasts or on their podcast app or service of choice:


Creation, Co-production and Conclusion!

HeadStart Wolverhampton has always believed strongly in co-production, the idea that, in developing any service that works with people in the community, their voice needs to be heard, and they need to be actively involved in decision-making:

One interesting observation from the huge range of tips that people shared with us for dealing with stress is how active many of their ideas were:

  • creative activities: arts, crafts, playing music
  • developing planning and organisation skills
  • sport and exercise
  • actively planning family activities and leisure time
  • going to new places, seeing friends
  • getting involved in community work

We believe in putting young people in charge, and in supporting them in making positive decisions to support themselves, either directly, or by working with educational and community professionals who support young people to develop programmes that:

  • give young people strategies to organise their lives  and to maintain focus and perspective
  • allow young people to 'bounce back' from life's challenges, building their resilience
  • provide access for young people to trusted information, whether online or through mentoring programmes, so that young people are well-informed and able to make good decisions for themselves and to take ownership of those decisions.

Resilient, well-informed young people, armed with personal tools and techniques, are best equipped to deal with the stresses of life, and also to know when, where and how they can seek the help and support they need.

HeadStart is not about telling young people what to do ... it's about living up to this motto that young people shared at the January HeadStart Conference in London:

"Nothing about me, without me"