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Mental Health Resources for Schools

08 May 2017

In February this year, the Mental Health Foundation released worrying statistics that one in 10 children suffered from depression or anxiety related issues, with almost half of cases involving children under the age of 14. What is more worrying is that over half of schools in the UK are not in a position to help these children even though they are often the first point of contact for worried parents looking for help.

“Schools have always been on the front line with children's mental health because school is often where issues first become apparent, and a school is often a parent's first port of call if they are looking for support.” James Bowen, NAHT Edge, Director of Middle Leaders.

Although some teachers will rightly think that they are teachers and not counsellors, many parents will turn to schools first when they feel that their children are starting to show signs of mental health issues and will often expect teachers to have an answer. Schools may have to start being prepared for this and will have to start finding a way of supporting pupils or signposting them to the appropriate mental health professionals.

A more recent survey by YouGov showed that 92% of parents think that schools should have a duty to help with their student’s mental health issues. The survey, rather surprisingly also showed that parents placed a higher premium on their children’s happiness than on exam results (73%).

During Children’s Mental Health Week in February this year, Mental Health charity Place2Be and the NAHT carried out a survey which showed that 56% of school leaders find it hard to source mental health help for their students. And, that a stunning 93% of pupils feel that they bring more worries into school than they did five years ago.

The OECD’s (Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development) recent life satisfaction study found that teenagers in the UK had a below average score (7 out of 10 with 7.3 being the average). The study concluded that one in six 15-year-olds in the UK were unhappy with school work anxiety and bullying being leading factors. The OECD’s results showed that:

  • 72% of teenagers felt anxious before tests even when they had prepared and revised
  • 24% said that they were victims of bullying more than once a month
  • 15% stated that they had been made fun of and 5% had been hit or shoved more than once a month

The good news is that mental health issues are starting to be taken more seriously and now have a much higher profile in the media. Back in January, Theresa May’s Conservative Government announced that all secondary schools would be offered mental health first-aid training. Then, in April this year, awareness of mental health issues, particularly among the young, were given a much-needed boost when Prince Harry disclosed that he has suffered from depression and anxiety due to a lack of attention to his grief following the loss of his mother in 1997. His brother Prince William and his wife, the Duchess of Cambridge have teamed up with Harry to campaign for better access to mental help support for young people.

What’s the problem?

The list of issues that may be causing children to suffer from high-stress levels, and this will come as no surprise to most people, include bullying, exams and tests, too much homework, body image, cyberbullying, feeling isolated and lonely and feeling like an outsider. In addition to these areas, students are also listing other non-school related worries such homelessness and the impact of recent austerity measures, Brexit and even terrorism among their concerns.

The recent OECD study also showed that heavy use of the internet was starting to make many young people feel isolated and dissatisfied. The study showed that children that spent more than six hours online per weekday were more likely to be less satisfied with life or felt lonely. This dissatisfaction may be down to them making unfair comparisons with their friends’ and peers’ perceived better lifestyles. Studies about general internet use have repeatedly shown that people were more likely to exaggerate their happiness or show off more on social media and the worrying rise in cyberbullying and online victimisation has had disastrous results for some young people.

What can you do?

Excellent physical health starts with the basics – eat well, exercise often, drink lots of water and avoid too much alcohol, and while these are useful guidelines, good mental health requires a little more in-depth guidance.

Talking is undoubtedly one of the best things for anyone struggling with poor mental health, but how can you get a withdrawn or depressed teenager to open up to you?

Poor mental health is often described as an invisible illness, so it’s difficult for a teacher to know whether one of their pupils is struggling. So, there are some techniques you can use in your classroom, which may help any student in need find the help they require.

For example, if you are an English teacher you could discuss a well-known author’s mental health issue or an Art teacher could touch upon any problems that famous artists have suffered from; perhaps create a quiz or set some realistic goals for the whole class to do. So, by casually talking about the topic, you can remove some of the stigmas around mental health issues and allow a child to feel confident enough to talk about it or look for help.

We’re in this together

This OECD survey results showed that teenagers who felt like they belong to the wider school community were more likely to feel happier as well as being more academically successful. The study also showed that children with positive relationships with their parents were naturally happier. So perhaps parents, schools and teachers could work together to develop a plan to tackle issues that may affect young people’s mental health and even collaborate with local services or mental health institutions to put prevention plans in place, this will support pupils and empower them to deal with the issues.

Resources

Unsurprisingly, schools cite budget restraints and lack of local services as the most common barriers to accessing much-needed help for their pupils, and almost half of teachers in an NASUWT poll say they are not equipped to cope as they have had no mental health training .

However, there are online tools that you can employ in your classrooms to help pupils - and for teachers - to either be more aware of mental health issues or to even open up about their struggles.

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