youth mental health

Research published this month revealed 66% of staff in Scottish schools feel ill-equipped to help pupils with youth mental health problems. Commissioned by the Scottish Association for Mental Health, the survey highlighted the need to properly train teachers and support workers.

youth mental health

Mental Health training for teachers


Working in partnership with schools and local authorities, here at The Spark we are actively addressing that skills gap.

Through our Scottish Mental Health First Aid for Young People (SMHFA-YP) and Relationship First Aid for Teachers (RFA) courses we are equipping teachers and support staff to spot the early signs of mental distress in children.

The Spark’s training provides staff in schools with a better understanding of youth mental health issues and how to signpost families to suitable, professional support.

Many schools are now investing their Scottish Government Pupil Equity Funding (PEF) in these programmes.

Teacher training is available right now


Rolling out the SMHFA-YP and RFA courses to all schools in Scotland could bridge the current skills gap. Both programmes are proven to deliver improved outcomes for pupils, school staff and families.

youth mental health

Importantly this training is readily available to schools and local authorities right now. Meaning it can be implemented almost immediately – a significant advantage over the time-consuming and costly process of commissioning new training.

First responders


Whilst suitable training for teachers and school support staff is vital, it is not enough to simply train education professionals in mental health first aid.

The role of teachers and school support staff in the drive for better youth mental health must be very specific. Within the context of a comprehensive, nationwide strategy they must be considered as first responders.

youth mental health

Youth mental health support pathways


Training – through programmes like our Relationship First Aid for Teachers – can and should be used to develop a community of first responders within our schools.

From there suitable pathways to refer pupils and their families to professional support need to be in place.

School based counselling


It is optimal for school staff to work alongside and not in place of professional mental health experts. Teachers are best placed to pinpoint changes in behaviour that might highlight underlying issues that could benefit from counselling and specialist support.

The provision of school based counsellors allows pupils to be referred for support within their own environment. With minimal administration pupils can receive help within a matter of days.

Clearly defined pathways allows to focus on teaching and local Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services (CAMHS) to concentrate on the most complex referrals.

A comprehensive approach to youth mental health


The Spark has helped schools and local authorities make a genuine positive impact on the mental health of children and young people. Our commitment to this work will see us support over 5,000 school pupils this academic year. This will be achieved through school based counselling and education programmes.

youth mental health school pupils

Rolling out a comprehensive training programme for teachers and support staff in Scotland’s schools would be a worthwhile objective. To be effective however it must be matched with a similar commitment to placing professional youth counsellors in schools.

By training teachers and support staff as first responders, providing suitable referral pathways and embedding counsellors in schools Scotland can lead the way in improving youth mental health.

School based counselling, education programmes and support


The Spark is Scotland’s largest supplier of school based counselling and support services.

Our specialist Children and Young People counsellors are embedded within the school community, working in partnership with teachers, support staff and families.

Find out more about our school based counselling for Primary and Secondary schools and our dedicated training for teachers.

Songs for Sound Minds #23 – ‘This Will Be Our Year’ by The Zombies


So, have you made your New Year Resolutions? Have you been inspired by a healthy eating blog to change your bad eating habits? Maybe you were in the local gym on January 3 planning to go from ‘Couch to 5k’.

‘What is the point?’ you might say. According to BUPA, 80 per cent of people do not make it to the end of March before going back to their old ways.

Research from the University of Bristol found that 88% of us will not keep our resolution.

Nothing much is achieve without the resolve to achieve something

But before you get too cynical it is worthwhile remembering that nothing much is achieved without the resolve to achieve something.

There is much to be said for the 1960s slogan, ‘Today is the first day of the rest of your life.’ It speaks of putting past failures and disappointments behind us. It encourages positivity and looking ahead with anticipation instead of dread.

Storm clouds

Another gem from the same period – the song ‘This Will Be Our Year’ – has the same feel to it. Compared to some of the starry-eyed hits from the time, it is a pretty down-to-earth and pragmatic song.

And I won’t forget

The way you helped me

Up when I was down

And I won’t forget

The way you said

Darling I love you

You gave me faith to go on

Now we’re there

And we’ve only just begun

This will be our year

Took a long time to come

Getting through tough times

Whether you have experienced a period of poor mental health or just a tough time in general, there are few feelings better than the relief when it is over.

Often our optimism for the future comes from knowing we can rely on those who helped us through tough times – for the first time or once again.

For those in the know, the song was the soundtrack to Don Draper’s daughter bringing him light at the end of his dark tunnel in the acclaimed TV series Mad Men by telling him, ‘I love you.’

One of the greatest albums of all time

The Zombies’ track, ‘This Will Be Our Year’ was from their 1968 album with the misspelled title, ‘Odessey and Oracle’. Rolling Stone Magazine ranked it 100 on their 500 Greatest Albums of All Time.

Their keyboard player, Rod Argent, is perhaps one of the less well-known artists of the era.  He did go on to form the eponymous band, Argent, which had hits with ‘Hold Your Head Up’ and ‘God Gave Rock and Roll to You’. The latter track was covered by Kiss and featured in the film ‘Bill and Ted’s Bogus Journey’ in the late 1980s.

As you listen to our latest pick in the Songs For Sound Minds series, why not take a look at our article ‘6 Ways to Keep a New Year Resolution’ for some practical tips on making positive change this year.

There is no reason why this can’t be our year.


Songs For Sound Minds – music tracks written as an anthem to overcoming the storms of life. The songs that give hope in those times when we are struggling.

Find more Songs for Sound Minds or suggest a track on Twitter or Facebook using the hashtag #SongsForSoundMinds

Alexa Amazon Echo dot

You might have spent time over Christmas and New Year listening to children play with their family’s new ‘Alexa’. The Alexa in question – if you are not into your gadgets – is the name of the personal assistant service (and ‘wake word’) on Amazon’s range of Echo intelligent speakers.

Along with Google’s equivalent ‘Home’, intelligent speakers are set to become a permanent fixture in our homes. With basic voice commands they can complete an ever increasing range of tasks.

Alexa Amazon Echo dot

Alexa? Play ‘Let It Go’…


Watching and listening to young kids play with Alexa recently was fascinating.

At first it started with wide-eyed disbelief at being able to play ‘Let it Go’ from Disney’s Frozen by just asking. Excitement reached fever pitch as Alexa told jokes, named all the Disney princesses and offered to book tickets for Paddington 2 at the cinema.

At the time a few of the parents joked that once the kids realised Alexa could order pizza and new IPads they would be in trouble (more on that later).

Pizza ordered by Alexa
Who ordered 30 pizzas?

Gradually the kids started asking more challenging questions of Alexa. Of course, with the system connected to the constantly expanding body of knowledge that is the Internet, there was little it could not answer.

Alexa knew everything. And that concerned me.

Why would I ask mum or dad? I can ask Alexa…


Back in the dark ages before the Internet we would go to our parents or grandparents for answers.

They would impart their own knowledge or find a book in the library that could do the same. Though neither understood it at the time, this represented an important bonding experience between child and parent.

The importance of parent child bonding


Here at The Spark we talk a lot about the importance of parent and child bonding from birth.

Babies brains make connections at 1 million times per second as they learn in the first 1000 days after birth. The cuddles, face to face interaction and kisses we share with them encourage that brain development.

The importance of the invisible bond between parent and child does not however end when they, for example, can ask Alexa to read them a bedtime story.

Throughout the journey from childhood to adulthood, maintaining that bond is vital in shaping confident, resilient and happy adults.

Child reading a book not asking Alexa the answer

Parents with older children will attest to the huge challenge in keeping any opportunities to bond intact.

Education is one of the few constants in this regard and as far as The Spark is concerned, we believe these opportunities need to be protected and encouraged.

The downsides of Alexa and the Internet


There are already concerns that children are learning about relationships, sex, self-worth and self-image via the Internet and often in potentially harmful ways.

Child development specialists have, in particular, reservations about the nature of the artificial intelligence that smart speakers use to ‘learn’.

Questions posed to Alexa and Home need to be formed using limited vocabulary and required only limited language skills. Their concerns are what this could do to the development of communication skills among younger children.

Furthermore none of the relationship nuances and social skills required in human to human contact are needed when using intelligent services.

In short, the child demands and the system provides with no questions or limitations.

Is Alexa safe for children?


For parents thinking about introducing artificial intelligence systems like Alexa to their home, The Spark has prepared some advice on how to manage the process:

1 Set some ground rules

When introducing new technology to the home set rules on how kids are and are not allowed to use it. For example, explaining the difference between asking Alexa for something and how they would ask another adult or child for something.

2 Get them reading books

Try to avoid allowing kids to solely learn via the Internet. Get back to reading encyclopaedias and atlases, and taking the occasional trip to your local library.

3 Use your own knowledge

Explain and educate them with the knowledge you have. Enjoy the opportunity to spend time and bond with them.

4 Learn together on the Internet

Where the Internet is the best or only option for learning, sit with them and be available to answer other questions. Discuss what they have learned and what else they might want to find out about.

5 Limit time

Limit use of intelligent systems by younger children, particularly when they are developing their language and communication skills.

6 Use parental controls

Update parental controls on your web browsers and intelligent speakers. Unless you have controls in place – for example, turning off voice purchases in Alexa – your kids could be ordering toys galore and enough pizza to feed the whole street.

If you have music and/or video streaming services check there are restrictions on explicit lyrics/adult content. You don’t want your 5 year-old singing the original version of Kanye West’s ‘Gold Digger’.

Artificial intelligence and therefore artificial relationships are going to become part and parcel of our lives. It is important that children use such technology safely and don’t lose opportunities to bond with their parents.

After all we don’t want to get to a point when our kids ask: “Alexa? Why do I need parents?”

Specialist support for parents, children and families


The relationships we have as parents and families are the most important in life. Even without new technology they can at times be very challenging.

The Spark’s specialist counsellors can provide support to parents and children in managing the ups and downs of life.  Find out more about counselling and support services with The Spark or have a look at our free online resources for parents and families.

perfect Christmas present

Well we’ve come to the end of our countdown to a stress free Christmas as we reach tip 21 and perhaps the most important one: forget about the perfect Christmas and enjoy the day. 


Enjoy Christmas Day and forget about perfect!

When it comes to Christmas Day this year enjoy the special moments and give yourself permission to ditch the pursuit (if you haven’t already) of a ‘perfect’ Christmas.

The tree might be tilting to one side more than the leaning Tower of Pisa and the turkey might be overdone; but that’s not what is important today.

What is important is to savour the smiles, the laughter and the opportunity to spend time with loved ones. Relish the imperfections of the day and remember that it really is the thought that counts when it comes to presents that might fall short of our expectations.

Laugh at how bad the Christmas cracker jokes are. Ignore the sea of wrapping paper now covering the living room floor. End up in hysterics as Gran tries to guess ‘twerking’ during Charades.

Merry Christmas!


Support this Christmas

Stress, anxiety, depression and relationship issues are very common at Christmas and during the festive season. The Spark offers counselling and support for individuals, couples, young people and families across Scotland.

To find out more or enquire about a counselling appointment, freephone 0808 802 0050.

The Spark Counselling – Christmas opening times

The Spark Counselling (enquiries team, appointments and office) will observe the following opening times during the 2017 Christmas and New Year holidays.

20 December 2017: 9am – 9pm

21 December 2017: 9am – 10am

22 December 2017 to 2 January 2018: closed

Services return to normal hours on 3 January 2018.

For immediate support over the Christmas and New Year break contact Breathing Space or Samaritans.

enjoy some just us time this Christmas

Tip 20 on our countdown to a stress free Christmas is an important one for couples and families: have some ‘just us time’.

Throughout December we will be offering up advice on how to enjoy a stress free Christmas!

You can catch up on all 21 tips for your stress free Christmas on our website.


Enjoy some ‘just us time’ this Christmas

Spending time with family is probably what most people look forward to at Christmas.

Modern life is so hectic that Christmas can end up being one of the few occasions when the whole extended family can get together.

just us time at Christmas

However, that does not mean we need to spend all of our time with them.

Christmas should be a time to recharge and unwind. An opportunity to consider the year that is coming to an end and our hopes and dreams for the one to come.

For couples, particularly those with children, it is important to carve out some time for just the two of you at Christmas. We like to call it ‘just us time’.

Spending time together just as a couple – not as parents – is a great way to keep your relationship strong and to celebrate the love that exists between you (and existed long before you became mum or dad).

enjoy some just us time this Christmas

Enjoy some ‘just us time’ this Christmas

Equally important is for individual families – parents and kids – to spend time together during the holidays.

Check out tip 18 and spend the day enjoying some low-cost activities as a family without in-laws or siblings and their families.

It is great to get the whole family together at Christmas. But there is nothing wrong with setting some time aside to devote exclusively to the people who mean the most to you and enjoy some ‘us time’.


Catch up on all of our 21 tips here or follow on Twitter and Facebook

get some rest

Tip 19 on our countdown to a stress free Christmas is really simple: get some rest!

Throughout December we will be offering up advice on how to enjoy a stress free Christmas!

You can catch up on all 21 tips for your stress free Christmas on our website.


Get some rest

Christmas offers up a perfect storm of late nights and early starts. Which means getting a good night’s sleep can be almost impossible.

In the build-up to Christmas we tend to run around like headless chickens in an attempt to get everything done in time.

We are up early to avoid the queues at the shops or trying to calm down over-excited children. We then spend late nights getting decorations down from the loft and writing Christmas cards.

Get some rest at Christmas

The Christmas holidays then become a series of late nights and early starts, especially if you have kids with boundless reserves of energy. Sleep often gets forgotten about, leaving us exhausted and in need of another holiday to get over Christmas.

Missing out on even a few hours’ sleep can have a negative impact on our physical and mental health.

Making sure that we get enough shut eye is important at any time of the year but particularly so when we are busy with trips to see family or hosting friends over the holidays.


Catch up on all of our 21 tips here or follow on Twitter and Facebook

Christmas family fun

Christmas spending does not stop at presents and turkey. We now have plenty of ways to spend cash on Christmas family fun. But as tip 18 for a stress free Christmas shows, Christmas family fun does not have to cost a lot.

Throughout December we will be offering up advice on how to enjoy a stress free Christmas!

You can catch up on all 21 tips for your stress free Christmas on our website.


Christmas family fun doesn’t have to cost a lot of money

The retail industry around Christmas is no longer limited to convincing us we can buy our way to happiness with perfect (expensive) gifts. It now extends to perfect décor for your home, the perfect Christmas dinner and the perfect Christmas family fun days.

Cue lots of adverts about ice skating, trips to Santa’s Grotto, festive films at the cinema, panto and more; and of course the pursuit of perfect Christmas fun for all the family invariably comes with a price tag.

Spending quality time with your kids at Christmas, however, does not have to cost a lot.

christmas family fun

A welcome side-effect of the digital age is that old fashioned board games have become a real novelty for children.

The fact that classic games like Operation, Monopoly, Kerplunk and Snakes & Ladders are not played on a tablet makes them desirable in the eyes of the IPad generation.

Kids may spend most of their time watching, swiping and drawing on their own tablets these days. There is however still a huge attraction in the novelty of getting the old arts and crafts box out.

Spend an afternoon helping them decorate their own Christmas baubles. Let them design and colour in their own ‘wrapping paper’ that you can use to wrap gifts for grandparents.

christmas family fun

Why not get them baking some festive treats?

It might come as a surprise but our digitally savvy kids really enjoy simple activities that offer actual and not virtual interaction with their parents and the world around them.


Catch up on all of our 21 tips here or follow on Twitter and Facebook

please and thank you saves anger

Next up on our countdown to a stress free Christmas is tip 17: say please and thank you this festive season.

Throughout December we will be offering up advice on how to enjoy a stress free Christmas!

You can catch up on all 21 tips for your stress free Christmas on our website.


Remember to say please and thank you

When a fellow shopper grabs the last ‘must have’ children’s toy from under your nose it can be hard to wish ‘goodwill to all’. When no one in the traffic jam will let you out of your parking space it becomes hard to wish them peace and joy.

Amidst the busyness of the season we tend to forget our manners. Tempers fray and our propensity for rudeness increases.

please and thank you saves anger

‘Please’ becomes ‘I want that’ and ‘thanks’ is, at best, spoken in a clipped and sarcastic tone. With steam coming from our ears we end up being rude to friends, loved ones and complete strangers.

And a lot of the time we do not even realise we are doing it.

This year why not commit to always saying please and thank you, in every situation.

We will all have a more pleasant time if we mind our P’s and Q’s.


Catch up on all of our 21 tips here or follow on Twitter and Facebook

Christmas past - unhappy memories of Christmas past

We have reached tip 16 on our countdown to a stress free Christmas.

Throughout December we will be offering up advice on how to enjoy a stress free Christmas!

You can catch up on all 21 tips for your stress free Christmas on our website.


Ghosts of Christmas past

There is no escaping that Christmas can be a difficult and highly emotional time for some of us.

Past experiences can change our perspective on the Christmas season and leave us feeling anything but festive.

The pressure to be happy at Christmas can further exacerbate emotions that are already very raw.

Christmas past - unhappy memories of Christmas past

There is no rule to say you must be happy at Christmas. If you do, however, find yourself dreading the festive period it is worth talking to someone about it.

A trusted friend or support group can be a good starting point to express how you are feeling. These can also be opportunities to see how others in similar situations have learned to cope.

Speaking to a professional counsellor is also advisable.

They can help you to manage the difficult emotions you are experiencing and find ways to move forward from the painful experiences that are making Christmas a difficult time for you.


Catch up on all of our 21 tips here or follow on Twitter and Facebook

Christmas helpers are not just for Santa

When you are the one stuck with all the Christmas tasks the festive season can feel far from festive. De stress this year by enlisting your own band of Christmas helpers.

With 10 days to go to  we are up to tip 15 on our countdown to a stress free Christmas.

Throughout December we will be offering up advice on how to enjoy a stress free Christmas!

You can catch up on all 21 tips for your stress free Christmas on our website.


Enlist some Christmas helpers

Christmas can quickly become a complete chore for enthusiastic people.

You end up being the person who buys all the presents, puts up the tree, sorts Christmas dinner and writes all the Christmas cards.

Instead of resigning yourself to yet another stressful festive season, enlist the help of your own Christmas elves.

Christmas helpers

Christmas helpers are not just for Santa

Decorating, putting up the tree, coming up with gift ideas, tidying the house for Christmas visitors – everyone should play their part in completing the seasonal to do list.

Aside from easing the burden on you, it can give everyone the chance to enjoy the excitement in the build-up to Christmas.


Catch up on all of our 21 tips here or follow on Twitter and Facebook