Why are we failing students with mental health issues?
The current provision for students with mental health needs is unsatisfactory. With so many cuts to mental health services, school staff have a tough task.
Jeremy Hunt has announced a new £5 million programme to train primary school staff in mental health first aid; it will help teachers spot the early signs of mental illness in young children and follows a similar scheme introduced in secondary schools last summer.
Is this enough? The simple answer is no.
This is a mere drop in the ocean to improving the lives and outcomes for young people with mental health needs. With at least 850,000 children living with diagnosed mental health conditions in the UK and the stigma of mental health stopping people seeking help from mental health services, teachers on the front line are crying out for support with our most vulnerable pupils.
It can be demoralising to work with students with poor mental health every day and not see them get any consistent support. As a teacher who works in a secondary school for students with social, emotional and mental health (SEMH) needs this is becoming ever more apparent.
We see our students for six and a half hours a day where they are taught, emotionally coached, fed, have their clothes washed and often feel safe. The majority of them then return to potentially unsafe situations at home, or environments where the adults that they rely on have severe unmet mental health needs themselves. We teach mental health on the curriculum, have every member of staff trained in emotional coaching, have strong links to CAMHS and well known counselling and mental health charities, have a designated mental health and wellbeing lead and staff trained in mental health first aid.
However, we still find ourselves going around in an endless cycle of crisis to referral on a weekly basis only to be told that the service is full or that the families do not wish to be involved with mental health services, leaving us again to spend our teaching time supporting students in a crisis of their own mental health.
5 Ways To Help
Some of the country’s most vulnerable young people with SEMH needs have been let down by the system, what do we need to do to support them and allow them to access society again?
1. A whole school approach
Current research consistently shows that using a whole school approach is the most effective intervention and that it’s particularly effective at improving outcomes for those most at risk.
The National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) and Public Health England recommend that schools use this approach. See the advice given by Bristol Healthy Schools.
A whole school approach means your school needs to:
- Identify the mental health needs within the school
- have leadership in place for mental health and wellbeing
- deliver high quality teaching around mental health and wellbeing
- have a culture that promotes mental health and wellbeing
- have an environment that promotes mental health and wellbeing
- make sure pupils and staff are aware of and able to access a range of mental health services
- support staff wellbeing
- be committed to pupil and parent participation
2. Appoint a mental health lead
To lead targeted interventions, work with primary mental health specialists, train teachers and support staff in various mental health conditions and how to support them, make CAMHS referrals and be a go to for supporting staff and students with their mental health needs.
3. Training for all staff in mental health first aid
The Government support to train one member of staff needs to be cascaded down onto all staff so that they are better equipped to deal with student’s mental health needs.
4. Run staff CPD on mental health
Take a look at:
or local charities such as Off the Record in Bristol
5. Teach students about mental health
As important as it is for adults to understand and be well equipped to deal with mental health, it is also equally important for our young people to have knowledge on mental health conditions and where to go for support if they are worried about themselves or someone else.
Staff in schools are going above and beyond every day to support students with mental health needs, if you have any suggestions or tried and tested strategies please share this information in the comments.