Mental is a word which has far too long been regarded in negative terms and is largely equated with mental illness. Mental illness is often misunderstood; it frightens people and attaches an enormous amount of stigma. People are resistant to the thought of children having mental health problems; with many believing it to be a passing phase which children will eventually grow out off. Yet, statistics continue to document that young people’s mental health problems are common. The time to change website http://www.time-to-change.org.uk/ cleverly attempts to distinguish between myths and facts associated with mental health and young people. One such myth is that young people just go through the ups and downs of puberty when the fact is that 1 in 10 young people will experience a mental health problem. Another myth is that it is easy for young people to talk to their friends about their feelings while the reality is that nearly three in four young people fear the reactions of friends when they talk about their mental health problems.
An annual survey conducted by The Key in early 2015, an organisation providing management support to schools, found that more than two-thirds (67 per cent) of respondents said they were worried about their pupils’ mental health. Sian Griffiths, Education editor for The Times reported in October 2015 that Britain’s top private schools have warned that they are facing an “unprecedented” outbreak of self-harm, eating disorders and depression among high-flying pupils weighed down by exam pressures, social media and family breakdown. The NSPCC have recently warned of a “time bomb” of serious mental health conditions after it emerged that more than a fifth of children referred to NHS services for treatment for mental health issues were rejected.
Schools have a crucial role to play in the creation of environments that strengthen relationships thus promoting mental health and well-being. There is pervasive evidence linking academic achievement to mental health and well-being (UK Faculty of Public Health). A history of childhood mental health problems is strongly indicated in the risk factors for developing mental health problems in adulthood. Mental health problems in children inadvertently increases demands on personal social services, education and health services too and are also worrying and costly for families. Therefore, the protection and promotion of young people’s mental health is an investment for life.
There are many types of school based mental health approaches but the most common are:
- Indicated programs aimed at manifesting signs of mental health problems
- Targeted programs aimed to improve the mental health of children at increased risk of mental health problems
- Universal programs aim to improve the mental health of the whole population
Positive evidence of effectiveness was obtained for programs that developed a whole school approach or multifaceted approach to mental health and implemented it continuously for a year. Programs aimed at the promotion of mental health rather than the prevention of mental illness were deemed more effective.
According to the WHO the mental health of young people should be “everybody’s business” and therefore I believe that schools should adopt a whole school approach to Mental Health Promotion.
One way to attempt to do this is to firstly write a policy on mental health for individual schools. I would begin with an outline using the headings below and have deliberately left gaps so that readers can choose to fill them in and make it relevant to their specific school. Questions are also included to aid reflection and discussion.
Model Policy on Mental Health
This model policy has been produced to provide schools with a template that can be adapted and customized for each school to meet the needs of its staff and pupils.
Date of Policy:
Schools have the unique ability to build resilience in young people, to promote self –esteem and well-being and to educate generations about mental health and to provide pupils with the knowledge and skills needed to prevent ill health in the future.
Objectives of this policy
To increase understanding and awareness of the importance of mental health in young people.
To provide support to staff to build up resilience for positive mental health.
To provide support to staff dealing with young people who are experiencing mental health problems.
To provide support to young people experiencing mental health problems.
What is mental health?
Mental health is defined as a state of well-being in which every individual realizes his or her own potential, can cope with the normal stresses of life, can work productively and fruitfully, and is able to make a contribution to her or his community (WHO website).
Why is it important to prevent mental health problems and to respond to mental health problems in our school?
How do we promote positive mental health in our school?
What are common mental health concerns in our school?
How do we identify children coping with mental health problems?
How do we promote Mental Health across the curriculum?
Individual Care Plans for children with mental health concerns
School staff including teachers, TA’s and lunch time supervisors have a key role in influencing pupils’ knowledge, skills and attitudes about health and recognizing children who may be coping with mental health problems. It is important that they are educated about the effects of mental health problems on children and aware of what to do if they identify children at risk.
School staff should be aware of Government agencies, community projects or support groups that may help support families and children at risk of mental health problems. Staff should also be aware of how to recognise pupils who may be struggling with mental health problems and are therefore able to make necessary referrals through safeguarding officers.
Schools should consider having a budget to cater for pupils who may need support in terms of mental health e.g. money put aside for mental health education resources or counselling.
Monitoring and Evaluation
The policy on mental health should be monitored and reviewed annually.
Date policy implemented: ___________
Date for review: __________________
Useful resources for schools
Please consider making Mental Health Promotion a priority in your school!