Explore your way to mental wellbeing in your school

Since 1993, the Mental Health Foundation has run the annual Mental Health Awareness Week (MHAW). It is endorsed by the World Federation for Mental Health and marked in over 150 countries at different times of the year.

In New Zealand, MHAW will be held from 23 to 29 September 2019 and this year's theme is ‘Explore your way to wellbeing — Whāia te ara hauora, Whitiora’.

Read this blog post and explore your way to wellbeing using our resources and ideas for developing emotional literacy in your school community.

Explore your way to wellbeing poster with family silhouetted against a starry sky and Mental Health Awareness Week branding

Emotional literacy at the heart of wellbeing

Dr Dougal Sutherland, from Victoria University of Wellington's School of Psychology, advocates for increased emphasis on emotional literacy in schools in his article We learn reading and writing at school. Why not educate kids about mental wellbeing too?.

The term 'emotional literacy' reflects the ability to:

  • understand emotions
  • listen to others and empathise with their emotions, and
  • express emotions productively.

Dr Sutherland notes that emotional health is often not taught in schools:

At school, we're meant to learn the basics: reading, writing, maths, even physical education and health. But this education stops short of teaching us about our mental and emotional health.

He describes how young people are generally expected to develop emotional literacy on their own, despite 'serious consequences' for those who do not. He concludes by reminding us that there is no health without mental health.

Teaching our children the basics of identifying and managing their emotions will help us put a fence at the top of the mental health cliff rather than continually having to provide an ambulance at the bottom.

Developing and supporting emotional literacy and mental wellbeing 

There are some great resources and tools we can use to help develop emotional literacy in our schools.

The Pause, Breathe, Smile programme piloted in Canterbury is a curriculum-aligned, evidence-based approach to teaching mindfulness in schools. Not only does it align with the New Zealand education curriculum, it also incorporates Te Whare Tapa Whā — a central component of MHAW's approach — as a key element of the programme.

In America, Daniel Goleman suggests a simple daily ritual where children sit in a circle and share how they are feeling. Teaching children how to name and talk about emotions is a powerful tool to help them develop emotional literacy.

Maurice Elias suggests that 'like reading, math, or science, emotional literacy can be taught'. He provides some useful tips for the classroom in response to frequently asked questions about teaching emotional literacy in schools.  

As individuals and as part of our school communities, school staff are uniquely placed to be powerful change-makers. Services to Schools has a wealth of resources to help you better support mental wellbeing in your school.

Reading for wellbeing

In particular, Services to Schools' resources explore the impact of reading for pleasure on health and wellbeing.

Evidence shows that reading for pleasure reduces stress and slows cognitive decline and improves:

  • life satisfaction
  • relationships
  • coping skills
  • empathy
  • self-esteem
  • attitudes to, and engagement with, learning.

Find out more about Reading for wellbeing (hauora) including the role of bibliotherapy.

Other Services to Schools resources

We also have a wealth of other resources to help you explore wellbeing in your school community.

Our lending service can provide books to support discussions about mental health with your students. Ask your school loan coordinator to put in a loan request. Our knowledgeable librarians can help put together a loan tailored to your request.

Get in touch if you're not sure what you need or who your school loan coordinator is.


Our blogs Libraries and learning and Create readers often explore topics such as wellbeing, empathy, and emotional literacy in the school community in more depth. These two posts are particularly relevant this Mental Health Awareness Week:

  • He hauora te taonga — health is wealth — good health/hauora is about complete physical, mental, spiritual, and social wellbeing. Discover resources from Services to Schools to support the health and physical education learning area.
  • Help children choose kindness — get inspiration for supporting children to choose kindness and celebrate empathy.

Topic Explorer

Our Topic Explorer sets contain a range of curated quality resources on a variety of topics. Some picks for discovering content you can use with your students this Mental Health Awareness Week include:

  • Hauora: Mental health and physical wellbeing — this topic covers signs and symptoms of mental health problems, and includes help agencies such as Te Whare Marie and Mental Health Foundation of NZ.
  • Me, myself, I — identity, self-awareness, families, beliefs, values, feelings, and attitudes are all part of being yourself. Explore a range of resources on body and mind, healthy lifestyles, diversity, genealogy, emotions, and citizenship.
  • Healthy living and eating — a diet including fruits, vegetables, proteins, grains, and dairy is healthy. Explore resources about the food pyramid, calories, essential nutrition, junk food, sugary drinks, exercise, and the problems of lack of sleep and exercise.
  • Bullying — this topic helps identify types of bullying (physical and online), getting help, why people bully, and its impact. The topic also includes websites that provide help and support.
  • Human body — five systems — explore parts of the skeletal, respiratory, circulatory, nervous, and digestive systems in the human body. Investigate the science behind them, how they work, and what you need to do to keep them healthy.

Other resources

The Youth Mental Health Project is the Prime Minister’s initiative to roll out programmes and activities in schools, via health and community services, to improve the mental health and wellbeing of young people. There are also online resources for educators, young people, and families.

The Mental Health Foundation has a variety of resources for schools and kura to use during Mental Health Awareness Week. These include an activity for each day of the week focusing on a different element of Te Whare Tapa Whā — a model of health that helps us to identify where we need extra support. The Te Whare Tapa Whā describes health as a wharenui/meeting house with four walls, which represent:

  • taha wairua/spiritual wellbeing
  • taha hinengaro/mental and emotional wellbeing
  • taha tinana/physical wellbeing
  • taha whānau/family and wellbeing.

Our connection with the whenua/land forms the foundation.

There is also a colouring competition you can get your students involved in this Mental Health Awareness Week.

Sparklers, a New Zealand based organisation that supports wellbeing for young people, has a wealth of teaching and learning resources, activities, and games.

Explore your way to wellbeing at your school or kura

The resources and ideas above are a good place to get started thinking and talking about mental health in your school community.

National events like Mental Health Awareness Week provide good opportunities to take a focused approach to promoting these resources and activities. However, mental health and wellbeing remain important concepts and topics all year long. So help improve mental wellbeing in our communities by keeping the momentum going throughout the year too.

By Nicole Gaston

Nicole is an Online Content Services Developer for Services to Schools.

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