Edge Hill student highlights impact of expanding child mental health programme

Three schoolchildren draw pictures in workbooks while a student mentor helps out.
Tackling the Blues has reached more than 2,500 school pupils to date.

An Edge Hill student is highlighting the profound impact of award-winning child mental health programme Tackling the Blues as it gets set to expand. 

Summer Cunningham, a student mentor for the sport and arts-based mental health education programme, highlighted how her own contribution has made a difference to children’s lives as the programme expands into Greater Manchester. 

As schools continue to respond to the effects of the Covid-19 pandemic, the number of student mentors who support delivery of the programme will increase from 48 last academic year to more than 80 this year; more than 2,500 pupils have been reached to date. 

A student wearing a Tackling the Blues t-shirt holds up a drawing.
Summer Cunningham is a student mentor on the arts branch of Tackling the Blues child mental health programme.

Summer, a third-year student from Kettering, Northamptonshire, said:

“I remember one of the girls I worked with last year showed a 180 turnaround in self-confidence – she started out incredibly shy and unable to verbalise her answers to questions, to being loud and proud in herself, practically shouting the answers at us. When we had to leave she was so full of gratitude and cried us out the door; that’s when I really reflected and knew that we had made a difference.

“And to be taking part in the programme during the Covid-19 pandemic has really helped me too. I lost a lot of motivation last year so to be doing something useful like this made a huge difference to my own mental health.

“Tackling the Blues has also given me a unique experience to work with respected organisations, promoting mental health and wellbeing directly with children, most from deprived areas, to improve their outcomes. You can visibly see the development of literacy and emotional processing from week to week.” 

Tackling the Blues – delivered in partnership between Edge Hill University, Everton in the Community and Tate Liverpool – supports children and young people aged 6-16 who are experiencing, or are at risk of developing, mental illness. 

Since its launch in 2015 a significant difference has already been made to many lives, with participating young people across the Liverpool City Region, Lancashire and now Greater Manchester displaying more confidence and less anxiety, with improved literacy and emotional intelligence skills. 

Dr Helen O’Keeffe, from the Faculty of Education, and Andy Smith, Professor of Sport and Physical Activity, both lead on the project at Edge Hill. 

“The Tackling the Blues project not only makes a vital difference to the children and families we work with who suffer from some of the poorest health and wellbeing in the country, it also makes an important contribution to the student experience, employability, knowledge exchange and research. 

“We are delighted that we are in a position to continue to expand this vital work during the current academic year.” 

Dr Emma Curd, Tackling the Blues coordinator for Tate Liverpool, vouched for the positive impact the programme also has on student mentors. 

“Since meeting Summer in 2019, we have seen her confidence flourish and grow in the classroom. From taking on leadership roles to developing unique and creative activities for young people to engage with, Summer is now an experienced and assured mentor. 

“She is particularly skillful in supporting the creation of a safe and creative environment for young people to talk about their feelings and emotions.” 

Tackling the Blues is continuing to develop as a result of ongoing funding from the Office for Students, Research England and the Premier League.