Tackle Your Feelings Schools Campaign : Innovation in student wellbeing during COVID-19 and beyond.
by Katie Brown
COVID19 and Young people’s wellbeing
The prevalence of conditions such as depression and anxiety are on the rise in young Irish students (Dooley et., al, 2019). With the rising incidence of such mental health issues, there is a need for early interventions that educate young people on wellbeing and mental health and breakdown the stigma surrounding mental health and emotional vulnerability.
But mental health is about more than the absence of mental ill-health (WHO). Nowadays we want young people to thrive and live with wellbeing, happiness and a sense of purpose. During COVID-19 the threat to youth mental health has been even greater and early findings from research indicates that the main stressor and concern for parents during the pandemic was their child’s wellbeing. Due to school closures and social distancing restrictions in place, young people are facing disruptions to activities and routine, social isolation and loneliness more than ever, which has resulted in reported decreases in mental health.
As such, the need for smart solutions to support young people has never been greater.
Tackle your Feelings
Tackle Your Feelings (TYF) is a campaign that has been running since 2015 and has achieved great success in reaching an international audience, with the content being viewed over 23 million times. With the success of the original TYF campaign the Tackle Your Feelings schools’ campaign was developed, an all-island campaign run by Rugby Players Ireland in partnership with Zurich Ireland.
Tackle Your Feelings schools’ campaign is an in-classroom programme that is aided by a bespoke app which encourages teachers and students to explore resources and complete tasks and exercises. The campaign has 3 main aims:
1) Break down stigma around mental and emotional wellbeing.
2) Change behaviours and equip students with tools and techniques to proactively work on their mental wellbeing.
3) Create a movement whereby people become champions of the campaign message in their own communities.
4 Key elements of Tackle Your Feelings
Over the last decade the use of smartphones has become widespread amongst young people which is sometimes associated with negative outcomes. However, the use of mobile phone applications for promoting wellbeing and supporting positive mental health is rapidly expanding due to its accessibility, making it a reachable means for young adults to engage with such resources.
The programme includes a phone application that accompanies a classroom programme in which students and teachers work through different lessons. The app was designed in a linear format to allow teachers and students to move through the app step by step, where they will find resources and complete goals and exercises based on self-awareness, emotions, characteristics and self-care. Research has shown that increased emotional self-awareness and positive coping strategies can lead to increased well-being. Donovan et al. (2016) found that the use of Mental health apps are a feasible and convenient way to implement a well-being intervention for adolescents as well as being an enjoyable way for young people to engage with this type of programme.
Positive Role Models
The programme features some of Ireland’s best known rugby players, who open up about their own experiences and challenges surrounding their own wellbeing and sharing the strategies that have helped them to navigate through difficult times. With the insight of the ambassadors and the tools and resources available in the programme, students learn more about their own mental wellbeing while also acquiring knowledge and tools to help them develop positive coping skills and encouraging a proactive approach to looking after their wellbeing. This empowers young people as it provides them with the necessary tools and information to improve lifestyle and proactively manage their wellbeing day to day. Recently Kinsella, English and and McMahon (2020) found that positive role models and heroes provide adolescents with the psychological resources to cope with life challenges which is potentially beneficial as adolescence is a challenging and stressful period for young people to navigate.
The programme itself is based on positive psychology principles such as emotional awareness, self-compassion, resilience and gratitude while also highlighting the importance of healthy relationships, boundaries, nutrition, sleep and exercise. Bjørnsen (2017) found that developing these skills can be beneficial in the promotion of mental health literacy, good decision-making skills, and overall wellbeing.
Research by O'Mara and Lind on youth mental health promotion suggests that promoting positive mental wellbeing in interventions for young people is a more suitable approach than mental illness prevention. Within the framework of positive psychology, mental wellbeing initiatives are designed to help individuals develop and sustain positive mental and emotional states that support one’s ability to thrive, both emotionally and in everyday life.
The programme engages students by providing them with a tool where they can record and reflect on their own behaviours including communication, emotions such as sadness, happiness and anger, as well as stress, resilience, gratitude and exercise/nutrition and sleep habits. As well as being able to record their own experiences, adolescents are also provided with resources both in the app as well as the classroom, which promotes self-regulation and provides them with positive coping tips and strategies to help them improve their wellbeing. Students are asked to set goals related to these tips’, and resources to make an “action plan” to improve on their wellbeing. Self-regulation and goal setting, striving and achievement are considered to be effective strategies to promote psychological wellbeing in adolescents as well as improving on their sense of meaning, fulfilment and accomplishment.
Tackle Your Feelings - Working with the National Curriculum
Teachers deliver the programme during regular scheduled class time and the programme dovetails with the national SPHE programme that focus’ on the development of social, personal and health education of young people. The purpose of the SPHEcurriculum is to aid students in developing skills that can help them thrive in their environments, relationships, mental health and wellbeing which corresponds well with the current aims of the Tackle Your feelings Schools campaign.
Research at UL
Researchers from the Teaching for Inclusion (i-TEACH) Research Lab at UL, directed by Dr Jennifer McMahon, are currently exploring the impact of the Tackle Your Feelings programme on the wellbeing and mental health of young people. The research team includes Dr Hannah McCormack, project manager of TYF with a background in sport and performance psychology. Research assistants on the team are myself, Katie Brown, an undergraduate psychology student at UL and Ciara Connolly, UL psychology graduate who is currently completing a master’s in counselling and psychotherapy at the Irish College of Humanities and Applied Science. The team hope to capture the effect of the TYF on young people’s wellbeing as well as explore the aspects of the programme that are the ‘active ingredients’.
The pilot rollout happened just as COVID-19 arrived in Ireland and schools closed. Like many schools those involved in piloting TYF schools programme had to pivot to online learning. Luckily the digital nature of the TYF schools programme made it easy to make this transition and teachers were able to lead the programme successfully in the online space. It also offered schools a way of supporting their student’s wellbeing throughout the pandemic which is invaluable.
Want to learn more?
The programme is currently being run in schools across Ireland, with the aim of gaining the insight of students and teachers upon completion of the programme. To find more information or to sign your school up and take part in the programme you can visit the tackle your feelings website at: https://www.tackleyourfeelings.com/schools/
About the Author: Catherine Brown is a 3rd year student studying Psychology at the University of Limerick and a member of the Teaching for Inclusion (i-TEACH) research lab.
Bjørnsen, H., Espnes, G., Eilertsen, M., Ringdal, R., & Moksnes, U. (2017). The Relationship Between Positive Mental Health Literacy and Mental Well-Being Among Adolescents: Implications for School Health Services. The Journal Of School Nursing, 35(2), 107-116. https://doi.org/10.1177/1059840517732125
Clarke, A., Friede, T., Putz, R., Ashdown, J., Martin, S., Blake, A., Stewart-Brown, S. (2011). Warwick-Edinburgh Mental Well-being Scale (WEMWBS): Validated for teenage school students in England and Scotland. A mixed methods assessment. BMC Public Health, 11, https://doi.org/10.1186/1471-2458-11-487
Dooley, B., O’Connor, C., Fitzgerald, A., & Oreilly, A. (2019). My World Survey 2: The National Study of Youth Mental Health in Ireland, UCD School of Psychology & Jigsaw.
Donovan, E., Rodgers, R. F., Cousineau, T. M., McGowan, K. M., Luk, S., Yates, K., & Franko, D. L. (2016). Brief report: Feasibility of a mindfulness and self-compassion based mobile intervention for adolescents. Journal of Adolescence, 53, 217-221 https://doi.org/10.1016/j.adolescence.2016.09.009
Kinsella, E. L., English, A. & McMahon, J. (2020) Zeroing in on Heroes: Adolescents’ Perceptions of Hero Features and Functions. Heroism Science, 5(2). https://scholarship.richmond.edu/heroism-science/vol5/iss2/2
Linda O'Mara & Candace Lind (2013) What do we know about school mental health promotion programmes for children and youth? Advances in School Mental Health Promotion, 6:3, 203-224, https://doi.org/10.1080/1754730X.2013.811952
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About the Author: Katie Brown is a 3rd year Psychology student in the University of Limerick and a member of the Teaching for Inclusion (i-TEACH) Research lab