Mental health in schools has been given a lot of consideration with The Prime Minister stating in January that 1,200 secondary schools were to receive Mental Health First Aid training, while Prince William raised the issue of mental health when he talked about his own experiences.
The charity Young Minds states, “1 in 10 children and young people between the ages of 5 – 16 have a diagnosable mental health disorder, that’s three in every classroom.”
With the rise in mental health issues and local psychology services struggling to meet the needs of our young people, we need more than one avenue of support to tackle mental health issues. Meeting the mental health needs of our young people can be done at different levels, not everyone is a trained mental health professional, but we can all make a positive contribution.
There are some effective contributions primary and secondary schools have been making towards looking after pupils’ mental health. A common theme is that schools recognise the limits of their expertise and work with others to help them deliver support to pupils and parents. While most schools have mental health on their radar, they will be at different stages in their provision.
At the primary phase schools promote policies in which children not only have a right to express how they are feeling, but to know when to say something in a safe context with trusted adults and peers. One idea is to set aside a ‘reflective space’ where pupils can have access to a mentor to talk things through. Other schools have set up specific groups for pupils to learn and apply strategies that build mental resilience: for problem solving, managing priorities and being aware of their own emotions and how to respond. External workshops on anti-bullying have also been successful in helping children recognise strategies and gain awareness of how to deal with bullying.
In addition to the year group pastoral support at secondary, there are variations on the F.I.N. (Friend In Need) scheme that my local school ran successfully in conjunction with the support from a youth counsellor from the authority’s youth service. The school provided training for student reps from years 9 to 11, who were known to the whole student body as those they could talk to and raise an issue with. The reps forwarded on pupils who needed support above their remit. They were proactive in looking out for and talking to students and building up trust so that pupils felt they could open up. This contributed to a reduction in bullying, one major cause of mental health issues, due to this being reported and addressed effectively by staff.
Training and awareness sessions for pupils and parents have also worked well. Parents need support too, and by working in conjunction with other local or national support groups a school can ‘fill in the gaps’ with the support from an external provider.
A recent government report on Mental Health Case Studies in Schools in England found that proactive pastoral support mechanisms in the primary phase have the potential to minimise the continuation of mental health issues as children move through secondary school. Schools can enlist the help of local support groups and training through national charities. Successfully caring for and addressing the mental health of our children and young people can be summed up in the proverb, “It takes a village to raise a child”.
Alastair Fielden is connect’s Education Consultant with over 20 years experience in SEND Education and assistive technologies.