Action Mental Health this week unveils a new mental health promotion programme for Northern Ireland’s primary school children as young as four.
The new programme, Little Healthy Me, is a vibrant and engaging, trauma-informed, mental health initiative aimed at building resilience in children in Primary One, Two, Three and Four.
Little Healthy Me explores emotional wellbeing issues, healthy lifestyle choices and pathways to effective support through imaginative and interactive play and song and has a strong focus on prevention and self-help.
The ground-breaking programme is unveiled during Children’s Mental Health Week which takes place from February 7-13, the theme of which is Growing Together.
Little Healthy Me was developed by Action Mental Health as part of the Our Generation project and is an extension of its hugely successful Healthy Me Programme for children in P5-P7, which has been running for several years. Our Generation is a cross-community, cross-border initiative whose motto is Growing Up Better Together, tying in with this year’s CMHW focus. Our Generation is a project supported by the European Union’s PEACE IV Programme, managed by the Special EU Programmes Body (SEUPB). Match-funding has also been provided by the Executive Office in Northern Ireland and Irish Government.
The new programme is unveiled against a backdrop of growing need for better mental health services across Northern Ireland. The first year of the pandemic marked an 11% rise within one local health trust area, in those aged 18 and under, attending emergency departments for serious mental health issues, compared to 2019. Those statistics, gathered within the Western Trust, included a five-year-old child and another, aged nine.
Targeted at 4 to 7-year-olds in P1-P4, Little Healthy Me sessions are delivered to Northern Ireland’s school children through interactive and fun, three-hour workshops, offered over three sessions by Action Mental Health and Our Generation specialist project workers.
The mental health-enhancing Little Healthy Me sessions are delivered by Action Mental Health free of charge to participating schools thanks to the generosity of the local community which supports the charity through donations, fundraising and gifts in Wills. Public funding has also been received through Peace IV programme and match-funding through The Executive Office and Irish Government.
Action Mental Health also provides free Little Healthy Me sessions for school staff, parents and carers, to promote whole school and whole community approaches as the most effective way of improving wellbeing outcomes for children.
Children participating in Little Healthy Me explore the area of mental health through engaging activity workbooks with a focus on the promotion of social and emotional wellbeing through problem-solving; coping and resilience skills and challenging stigma and discrimination. The sessions further teach children how to seek help when needed and where to find support as well as supporting the transition to post primary school.
Little Healthy Me uses evidence-based approaches to promote the importance of mental health with physical health, and teaches children how to understand and express feelings appropriately. It also encourages adults to think about their own mental health needs and those of the children they care for.
Northern Ireland’s Mental Health Champion, Professor Siobhan O’Neill praised Little Healthy Me, stating: “Preventative intervention programmes such as ‘Little Healthy Me’ make an important contribution to our efforts to improve mental health here in Northern Ireland. Importantly, Little Healthy Me is designed by experts and is evidence-based, using strategies that we know will create resilience. The theme of Children’s Mental Health Week is ‘Growing Together’, and ‘Little Healthy Me’ uses play to foster connection and build strong social and emotional awareness, which will better equip our children to cope with life’s difficulties and flourish.”
Lynsey Stewart, principal of Ligoniel Primary School in Belfast, applauded Little Healthy Me, stating: “Action Mental Health’s project workers delivered the Little Healthy Me programme to 97 children from P1 to P4, introducing topics on self-care, self-regulation and coping strategies in an engaging and age-appropriate manner.
“The children benefitted greatly from the delivery of the content, brought to life on illustrative paddle boards, and bespoke workbooks which continue to reinforce their learning after the completion of the programme. It’s an added advantage that the project workers were able to adapt their approach from the P1s right through to the older children in P4 in a thoroughly accessible manner.”
Nicola McKeown, acting vice principal of Christ the Redeemer Primary School, Belfast agreed, stating: “The ‘Little Healthy Me’ programme has had a profound impact upon the health and wellbeing of the children in our school. All children from years 1 to 4 participated in this excellent programme centring around the importance of a healthy mind and body. Such was the excellent delivery of the programme that our children are now equipped with a range of coping strategies that they can use when facing adversity.
“This awareness of their own mental health is evident in the language they use in classroom discussions and this can only have positive implications for our children’s future wellbeing. I would highly recommend this programme to all our other schools at a time when it is needed most.”
Action Mental Health’s Amanda Jones, Head of Resilience and Wellbeing Services explained the background to the programme. “Little Healthy Me is based on an existing mental health promotion programme – Healthy Me – which was designed to provide a preventative approach by raising awareness of mental and physical health and wellbeing amongst Key Stage Two children in the school setting.
“This approach is consistent with NICE (National Institute for Health and Care Excellence) public health guidance which highlights that ‘children’s social and emotional well-being affects not only their mental health but also their physical health and can determine how well they do at school’ (NICE, 2008).”
Little Healthy Me was developed in Northern Ireland through a collaboration between Action Mental Health (AMH) Our Generation and Donegal Youth Service (DYS) with expert input and direction from the Ulster University, Royal College of Psychiatrists (NI), Child and Adolescent Mental Health Service (CAMHS), Stranmillis University College, Andrews Memorial Primary School principal, Ralph Magee, AMH New Life Counselling’s Arts Therapist and PlayBoard NI.
Amanda Jones added: “We wish to extend our thanks to the working group for their valued contribution and ongoing support for our work to improve the wellbeing of children in Northern Ireland.”
To find out more about Little Healthy Me and how to book, please click here.