More than 200 Western Isles school pupils are now equipped with the skills to negotiate life in a positive way thanks to specialist proactive mental health training workshops delivered by NHS Western Isles staff.

Delivered by Mike Sullivan and  Lucy Harness from the NHS Western Isles Child and Adolescent Mental Health Service (CAMHS), ‘The Decider Skills’ workshops are based on cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) and dialectical behaviour therapy (DBT) therapeutic techniques – but developed in a way that can be used universally, as well as with targeted groups.

They are being used extensively across the UK and across different health, social and educational settings. The innovative training workshops were created by CBT Therapists Michelle Ayres and Carol Vivyan based in Guernsey.

Over the past year, Mike and  Lucy have delivered ‘The Decider Skills’ to a number of schools around the island chain, with over 200 pupils being involved in workshops, learning the skills to help them manage emotions and relationships in positive and helpful ways. The schools participating so far include the Nicolson Institute, Sir E Scott, Sgoil Lionacleit, Stornoway Primary and Tong. There are plans to continue to deliver this training to schools on request, and the potential to also train parents in the skills – with many already expressing an interest in taking part.

Adult mental health services are also currently using the skills in direct work with patients.

Mike explains: “The pupils have really enjoyed the classes and the feedback from the schools has been incredible. We hope that teachers and schools will now keep the programme running with our support. It really is a great way to promote good mental health, but also to teach coping skills when things are difficult.”

The Decider Skills are taught and demonstrated in fun and active ways that make them easy to remember and to use. The materials and teaching are the same regardless of age groups, as we all experience times when we need ways to cope.

Lucy says: “One of the greatest challenges is teaching adults and children the skills to understand and manage their own emotions and mental health. These skills are a crucial part of helping people develop positive skills and also to develop knowledge of how their emotions can drive them in negative and unhelpful ways. They can then step back and consider alternatives that work.”

CAMHS will now be supporting teaching staff through additional training, to ensure they can continue to deliver the skills within classrooms across Primary and Secondary schools – and NHS Western Isles is supporting this initial phase as an effective way of building up support to Mental Health and Wellbeing across the community and age groups.

Other Health Boards across Scotland have also been rolling out The Decider Skills as a way of managing waiting lists, as well as in recovery groups, as the scope for the skills is so extensive.

Mike adds: “It is hoped that wider services in Health and Social Care within the Western Isles will eventually be able to be trained to deliver the skills.

“It would create a common language and understanding, and also enable people to remember ways to manage things, regardless of what service they access or setting they are in.”

NHS Western Isles Chief Executive Gordon Jamieson, said: “Our aim would be for every school pupil in the Western Isles to be armed with these skills, to not only improve their quality of life, but help them manage the challenges that life brings.

“The effects of stress, anxiety, depression and suicide impact our whole society and local communities. One in four of us will be affected by mental health problems every year, and 10 per cent of all children aged between five and 16 have a diagnosed mental health problem – that is two or three in every classroom. Fifty per cent of all mental health problems are established by the age of 14, and 75 per cent by the age of 18.

“This data is alarming, and demonstrates the significant need for attention – and most importantly, a fresh approach. Mental health care has traditionally been reactive, but Decider Skills is about proactively managing mental health, taking a positive approach and teaching the skills to monitor and manage your emotions and mental health.”

If you could like to find out more about The Decider Skills, please contact Lucy on 01851 701868.