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Elizabeth Holmes

Mental health and wellbeing: supporting children and young people

There is much that schools can do to support children and young people with mental health difficulties but good quality CPD is essential. Elizabeth Holmes outlines what schools can do.

With the great need for subject-specific CPD, it’s little surprise that training in care for the mental health and wellbeing of the children and young people we teach takes a relatively low priority. Yet it’s quite clear that each teacher shares responsibility for pastoral care, and being equipped to offer timely support can benefit children tremendously.

Mental distress and changes in behaviour

In contrast with some of the current narratives on behaviour and behaviour management, and the belief that children misbehave because they choose to or because they can, many of those working in mental health support services for children and young people see a direct link between mental distress and changes in behaviour. Children may ‘act out’ their feelings or externalise their distress. There can be noticeable differences between the ways in which boys and girls respond to mental health difficulties too. Without adequate training in support for children and young people, challenges in the classroom can be distressing for teachers and pupils alike. While mental health services for children and young people as well as adults are, as ever, struggling in an underfunded environment, it does seem that mental health has become a political issue. Ignoring the distress of young people has certain long-term costs associated and spotting needs and offering timely, appropriate support is essential.

What can you do?

With approximately 10% of children aged 5-16 with a recognised mental health disorder, just about every teacher will encounter pupils in need of additional support. Without CPD, that support may be patchy at best and the needs of children in school may go unmet.

Find out more about our In-House Training course 'Equipping your staff to support mental health needs'.

The following ideas may help:
  • Always take suicidal ideation seriously. Follow up with community mental health support teams.
  • Regardless of the subject you teach, make space for appropriate discussion of low mood to help normalise a range of feelings and emotions.
  • Be aware that a child may choose you to confide in, however ill-equipped you feel to deal with their needs. Knowing who to refer them to and where to get support yourself is essential. Collaborative work with outside mental health agencies will be crucial.
  • Know the signs of depression in children and young people and discuss any concerns with colleagues and parents.
  • Utilise the MindEd website which was launched to help those working with children and young people to spot the signs of emotional distress and offer guidance as to where further support may be found. There is a substantial amount of e-learning on the site (over 250 sessions) which could prove invaluable for in-house CPD.
  • Consider identifying a mental health research lead within your school with responsibilities for staying up to date with the latest in methods for supporting children and young people. Building expertise in house will be incredibly useful.

If we are to avoid missing important signs that a child is struggling with mental distress, all teachers need to engage with CPD on mental health and wellbeing. When we know that half of all diagnosable mental health conditions will have started before the age of 14 and 75% by the age of 21, our role as teachers in schools in identifying and responding to children in need is vital.

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