Snapp Happy – a whole school approach to mental health
PUBLISHED: 00:00 27 May 2020
Jo Moore’s firsthand experience of having a daughter with serious health problems has led her from a life as a corporate highflyer to creating mental health education for schools.
The Covid-19 pandemic is providing all manner of challenges and even the hardiest of adults can be forgiven for finding it tough. But for children dealing with their own anxieties, as well as watching as grown-ups navigate the stormy waters of uncertainty, it can be incredibly daunting.
As the country turns to talk of tentative steps to life after quarantine and the reopening of schools, the mental wellbeing and resilience of our children is more significant than ever.
Jo Moore, a transformation coach and founder of Snapp Happy, is, quite simply, resilience personified. And she’s a woman on a mission to use her own experience to help children and their teachers across the UK.
At the height of her corporate career, jetting between London and New York, leading transformational change for financial organisations such as JP Morgan and RBS, Jo gave birth to her daughter, who was to change her life forever: “Becoming a parent is life-changing in any circumstances, but Millie was very, very poorly,” she explains.
“She has a severe allergic condition and is extremely prone to anaphylaxis. Her throat closes and she can stop breathing during an attack – she’s two minutes away from brain damage or death when it happens,” she says, matter- of-factly.
“As a baby she was allergic to basically everything except me feeding her; she woke every 40 minutes of the night due to, we later discovered, chronic pain. I quickly realised I wouldn’t ever return to life as I had known it.”
As the allergic episodes continued, Jo restructured her challenging world with Millie at the centre; “Work fitted around family, not the other way around,” she says. “It was a huge change but one I am eternally grateful for,” she smiles.
Six years ago Millie became too unwell to attend school and was struggling with living in London, so the family moved to Knutsford, where Jo was raised as a girl.
She threw herself into home schooling and studying the condition, and how to support her daughter, building her resilience – all while dealing with sporadic, life-threatening allergic reactions.
The similarities with the Covid life we have all come to manage of late is not lost on Jo: “We’ve both had to learn to cope with extreme uncertainty – a child confronting death at just two years old is pretty big,” says Jo.
“My daughter faces danger whenever she leaves the house and it’s my experience as a mother that has enabled me to teach Millie about her ability to be resilient.
“There’s nothing harder than telling your child they’re going to be OK when they’ve stopped breathing,” she says, laughing at the breathtaking enormity of her own words. “There is a very short timeframe for her to stop breathing. The most important thing when her throat closes is for her to be calm – if she panics she uses up oxygen too quickly, so we’ve focused on that and that’s what she’s learned to overcome.”
Having made the leap into flexible, self-employed consultancy, using life experience and the skills learnt in her years in investment banking, Jo turned her attention to the education sector. Using the business principle of ‘fix at source’, she created Snapp Happy – a whole school approach to mental health she believes will assist in pre-empting the need for more complex and expensive interventions in the future. Her Vision 2020 programme, which allows businesses to sponsor local schools with the programme, was due to launch just as the UK was put into lockdown.
“Our school years are critical for developing the building blocks of resilience, to support us throughout our lives. Our vision for education is that learning resilience is a core skill alongside learning to read – that positive affirmations can be recited like times tables and managing the mind is as important as multiplying in maths.
No-one could have known the scale of what was to come earlier this year, but Jo agrees that Covid-19 and, more importantly, our schools’ journey on from it, presents us with even more need to help our children and their teachers build resilience.
Snapp Happy – named after colourful wrist bands the programme provides for children and teachers to wear and use to ‘snapp’ themselves out of negative thoughts – is designed to create a whole school approach to mental health. It builds upon the traditional 3 Rs of reading, writing and arithmetic, and adds a fourth ‘R’ – resilience – into the everyday actions and behaviours of staff and students, leaving a positive impact on stress levels and wellbeing across the whole school community.
Millie is now 16 and is still dealing with her health challenges, Jo says: “But she’s resilient, she’s robust and she’s found acceptance and peace with it. Mentally she’s really strong and well – she even said to me once: ‘Mum, I’m so glad this is our life, we have a lovely life and it may never have been this lovely had I not been ill’. How wonderful is that?”
For more information on Snapp Happy and how local businesses can sponsor a school, go to besnapphappy.com