Does everyone in your school discuss mental health?
To ensure students receive consistent support, it’s essential that a school takes a whole-school approach to mental health and wellbeing.
On the 3rd February 2021, prime minister Boris Johnson announced that @DrAlexGeorge was appointed Youth Mental Health Ambassador.
Make no mistake.
Underfunding of our English schools and local services, coupled with increasing mental health – and all this before COVID-19 – has put enormous strain on English state schools.
There are too many stories of long waiting lists at CAMHS; students being discharged too soon or declined to be seen. We know that there are whole families in crisis who are not accessing the support they need due to cuts in services.
So, this is my advice to Dr George and schools who are seeking a better whole-school approach to mental health:
- 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 and an environment that promotes mental health and wellbeing
- Make sure students and staff are aware of and able to access a range of mental health services
- Support staff wellbeing
- Be committed to student and parent participation
- Lobby the government for better funding!
This might sound daunting at first, but here are 4 initial steps you can take to start making this a reality.
1. Listen to your students
To identify how you could improve your provision for student mental health and wellbeing in your school, start by running a survey for all students to voice their perceptions of their own mental health and how well they currently feel supported by the school.
This will pinpoint areas in your provision that you need to focus on, either because students are struggling with specific needs you may not previously have been aware of, or because there are certain aspects of your approach to mental health that need improving.
2. Appoint a mental health lead
It’s important to appoint a staff member as your school’s mental health lead.
Their role can include leading targeted interventions, working with primary mental health specialists, training teachers and support staff in various mental health conditions and how to support them, making CAMHS referrals and being a go-to for supporting staff and students with their mental health needs.
3. Establish a staff working party for mental health
Set up a staff working party for mental health and encourage all staff to get involved.
It’s best to have a rolling action plan over the course of the school year, asking for suggestions from members to help set the agenda. Members will often come up with suggestions about schools to visit, conferences to attend, and books or research to help inform your provision. Make sure you get a balance between theory and practice.
4. Training for all staff in mental health first aid
Training needs to be cascaded down for all staff so that they are better equipped to deal with students’ mental health needs.
Schools should ensure that mental health issues are taken seriously and discussed via specific INSET and CPD. The school community is the sum of all its staff so mental health and wellness should be seen as a priority.
All staff, whether or not they want to be actively involved in a particular mental health initiative or project, must at least know what to do if they have a disclosure made to them and how to signpost students to the support available.
Find more of these ideas to improve mental health initiatives in your school, in my book, Just Great Teaching.