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The Princess of Wales marks Mental Health Awareness Week at Anna Freud

The Princess of Wales, Patron of Anna Freud, joined a special event on Thursday to mark Mental Health Awareness Week – taking part in expert-led conversations on how we can build the mental wellbeing of current and future generations and learning about interactive activities undertaken by secondary school students.


(image: Michaela Greene)

With this year’s Mental Health Awareness Week shining a spotlight on how anxiety impacts the lives of so many children and young people, Her Royal Highness took part in discussions on how evidence-based research, clinical expertise and young people’s lived experience can be united to create innovative new ideas and close the gap between children’s needs and the help they receive.

Her Royal Highness then joined a group of secondary school students who had just taken part in a series of classroom activities that explored how they deal with their own anxious feelings. These were based on ‘Let’s talk about anxiety’, Anna Freud’s new animation and teacher toolkit – launched today at the event – which has been co-created by the students themselves. The resource exemplifies Anna Freud’s vision for empowering children and young people with the knowledge, confidence and skills to manage their mental wellbeing, as well as those who impact on their lives - from parents to policy makers, early years workers to teachers, mental health professionals to community-based practitioners.

(image: Michaela Greene)

Professor Peter Fonagy, Chief Executive of Anna Freud, said: “We were delighted to welcome our Patron, Her Royal Highness The Princess of Wales, to Anna Freud to mark this very special event during Mental Health Awareness Week and in our own journey.

“Through working closely with Her Royal Highness in relation to the wellbeing of children, young people and families, I know how committed she is to helping the youngest members of our society to achieve a fair and equal start in life. The passion and knowledge she brings to our discussions on developing new ways to build the mental wellbeing of future generations at home, in school and in the children’s mental health workforce is truly inspiring. We look forward to continuing to work closely with her on these important issues facing our society.

“Our founder, Anna Freud, was committed to helping the most vulnerable children and she was not afraid to challenge the status quo – a legacy we are proud to continue as we renew our focus on building the mental wellbeing of current and future generations.”

Special event

Her Royal Highness joined Anna Freud staff, supporters and young people with lived experience of mental health challenges in a series of discussion topics including ‘How best to normalise conversations around mental health’, ‘Building a workforce which champions early intervention’, and ‘Whether schools can be places which build mental wellbeing’.

(image: Michaela Greene)

The discussions drew on recent innovations in this field, including the work being carried out by the Royal Foundation’s new Centre for Early Childhood, and its expert advisory group which includes Professor Fonagy, and Director of Postgraduate Studies Professor Eamon McCrory.

The Princess then joined a classroom lesson alongside students and staff, based on the new ‘Let’s talk about anxiety’ animation and accompanying teacher toolkit, which will be freely available to secondary schools across the UK. Aimed at students in the early years of secondary school, the resource will help them to understand that anxiety is a normal emotion, as well as offering top tips for coping. Students reflected on and practised their own healthy coping skills, drawing on ideas from the animation, before applying their knowledge in scenarios that might make people anxious.

Deborah Bligh, Vice-Principal and Senior Mental Health Lead at St Richard's Catholic College, Bexhill on Sea, the school which co-created the resource, said: “We were delighted to have been invited to collaborate with Anna Freud on such an important topic. Our pupils felt they were really listened to and empowered to share the support they feel they need in school, and beyond.

“We all feel anxious at times and the importance of being able to normalise this and discuss different ways to respond to it is so important. Children are having to try and make sense of the unpredictability of the last few years, alongside all the other pressures that family, school and social lives can bring. When feelings of anxiety become overwhelming, pupils need to know how and where they can access support.  This excellent resource from Anna Freud is another example of their support to schools as we all continue to build a culture of wellbeing for our pupils.”

Nicola, Participation Programme Assistant and former Parent Champion for Anna Freud, who spoke at the event, said: “My son suffered from anxiety for years in primary school. It had a crippling effect on him; it wasn’t understood by the school, who had no idea how to help an anxious child. As a result, his mental health deteriorated which, in turn, affected his physical health. We should not underestimate the impact that anxiety has on a child, and it can often affect them for years to come. The resources that Anna Freud has produced will help so many children and young adults. Teachers will gain a better and much needed understanding of anxiety, so they can address the needs of each individual child - enabling them to be their very best.”  Nicola’s insights as a parent of a young person who has experienced mental health problems illustrates how those with lived experience help to shape Anna Freud’s work.

The event also marked the first opportunity to publicly showcase Anna Freud’s refreshed branding, marking an important phase in our ‘Closing the Gap’ strategy, celebrating the work we have done for over 70 years and highlighting our focus for the future.

To access our new 'Let's talk about anxiety' toolkit, please click here.