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This Much I Know About Mind Over Matter: Improving Mental Health in our Schools

Review by Tom Ward

Although primarily aimed at senior leadership, as an aspiring middle leader I found this an interesting insight into current debate and research around the mental health of young people, and have taken some useful tools away from my reading (especially considering the imminent return to the school setting in the post-Covid era).

Tomsett weaves his own personal experience with mental health through the book, with chapters on his relationship with his mother (who herself suffers from mental illness), the loss of his father at a young age, and how he handles the high-pressure role of being headteacher of a large secondary school.

In particular, I found the chapter in which Tomsett interviews Claire Fox, the director of the Institute of Ideas, fascinating:

“Children don’t need a break from intellectual stress. They need more of it.”

“Stress comes with responsibility, with taking yourself seriously and taking the world seriously. There is not a kind of cocoon where you don’t have to worry about anything.”

From Claire’s point of view, a potential issue with the current trend of mindfulness in schools is that it encourages young people to constantly look inward for the solution to their problems – mindful breathing, mindful meditation, focus on your immediate environment. Whilst this can be good in moderation, it means we lose focus of using others in order to make ourselves better humans – exposure to “the best that has been thought and written”. We need to read and learn because it helps us to put things in perspective, to set goals and to challenge ourselves. Without this sense of challenge, we fall into ennui, and depression.

I found this book challenged my perceptions of what “mental health” really means, especially within the school environment. I intend to draw on some of Tomsett’s ideas and perspectives in adapting my own role in school, especially as a form tutor.