08 SES 09, Engaging with Stress and Difficult Emotions in Schools
There are growing concerns over the psychological well-being of school-aged children (Tymms et al., 2016) with current evidence suggesting a global prevalence of child and adolescent mental health disorders of approximately 20% (World Health Organisation, 2005). Whilst the causes of mental ill health in young people are varied and complex, studies point to an association between high levels of school-related stress and high levels of health complaints, with stress from the pressure of school work being particularly prevalent during adolescence (Haugland et al., 2003). Paradoxically, there is also now mounting evidence of an association between young people’s health and well-being and their learning (see Duckworth & Seligman 2005; Public Health England (PHE), 2014). This suggests the need to equip young people with the competencies and skills to be able to manage stress for the benefit of their academic success as well as their mental health.
For many young people regular participation in physical activity has been found to be associated with improved psychological health (Janssen & LeBlanc, 2010) including enhanced self-esteem and cognitive function and reduced symptoms of anxiety and depression (Stensel et al., 2008). Whilst the associations tend to be only modest, intervention studies focused on physical activity and various mental health outcomes have been found to be effective and to achieve positive outcomes in young people (see for example, Brown et al., 2013; Dunn & Weintraub, 2008; Ekeland et al., 2004; Keeley & Fox, 2009; Larun et al., 2006; Lubans et al., 2016; Tomporowski et al., 2008).
Given the prevalence of mental health issues in young people, the academic pressures they face, and the evidence of the association between physical activity and mental health, the need for intervention programmes with a physical activity focus seems well justified. Schools have furthermore been highlighted as an important context for such interventions (Tymms et al., 2016; PHE 2014).
This paper reports on the findings of an independent evaluation of a pilot programme, ‘Get to the Start Line’, which was an innovative school-based programme designed to address school-related stress and anxiety associated with exams. The programme was developed by the Youth Sport Trust (YST), an independent charity committed to changing young people’s lives through sport and to the provision of high quality physical education and sporting opportunities. The aims of Get to the Start Line were: i) to use physical activity to reduce the stress and anxiety of pupils in order to support improvements in academic attainment, and ii) to increase understanding of stress and anxiety disorders affecting young people and the role of physical education and physical activity as mechanisms for reducing their prevalence.
Brown, H.E. et al., (2013) Physical activity interventions and depression in children and adolescents. A systematic review and meta-analysis, Sports Medicine, 43, 195-206. Charmaz, K. (2000) Grounded theory: Objectivist and constructionist methods. In N.K. Denzin & Y.S. Lincoln (Eds.), Handbook of qualitative research, (pp. 509-536). London: Sage. Charmaz, K. (2008). Constructionism and the grounded theory method. In J.A. Holstein & J.F. Gubrium (Eds.), Handbook of constructionist research, pp. 397–412. New York: The Guilford Press Duckworth, A. & Seligman, M. (2005) Self-discipline out does IQ in predicting academic performance of adolescents. Psychological Science, 16, 939-944. Dunn, A.L. & Weintraub, P. (2008) Exercise in the prevention and treatment of adolescent depression: a promising but little researched intervention. American Journal of Lifestyle Medicine, 2, 507–18. Ekeland, E. et al. (2004) Exercise to improve self-esteem in children and young people. The Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews, 1:CD003683. Haugland, S., Wold, B. & Torsheim, T. (2003) Relieving the pressure? The role of physical activity in the relationship between school-related stress and adolescent health complaints. Research Quarterly for Exercise and Sport, 74(2), 127-135. Janssen, I. & LeBlanc, A.G. (2010) Systematic review of the health benefits of physical activity and fitness in school-based children and youth. International Journal of Behavioural Nutrition and Physical Activity, 7, 40. Larun, L. et al. (2006) Exercise in prevention and treatment of anxiety and depression among children and young people. The Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews, 3, CD004691. Lubans, D. et al., (2016) Physical activity for cognitive and mental health in youth: A systematic review of mechanisms. Pediatrics, DOI: 10.1542/peds.2016-1642. Public Health England. (2014) The Link Between Pupil Health and Wellbeing and Attainment. A Briefing for Head Teachers, Governors and Staff in Education Settings. London: PHE publications gateway number: 2014491 Stensel, D.J., Gorely, T. & Biddle, S.J.H. (2008) Youth health outcomes. In: Smith, A.L. & Biddle, S.J.H (eds). Youth Physical Activity and Sedentary Behaviour: Challenges and Solutions. Champaign, Illinois: Human Kinetics, 31-57. Tomporowski et al., (2008) Exercise and children’s intelligence, cognition, and academic achievement. Educational Psychology Review, 20, 111–31. Tymms et al., Clustered randomised controlled trial of two education interventions designed to increase physical activity and well-being of secondary school students: the MOVE Project. BMJ Open 2016;6:e009318. doi:10.1136/ bmjopen-2015-009318. World Health Organisation. (2005) Atlas: Child and Adolescent Mental Health Resources: Global Concerns, Implications for the Future. ISBN 92 4 156304.
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