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Mental health: time to break the silence

healthThe figures are disturbing. According to recent research 85% of secondary schools are reporting increases in mental health problems among students.

On average, one in three young people in every class will have a mental health issue. Britain’s children, say the Children’s Society, are among the least happy in the world.

But what makes these stats all the more disturbing is that the trend has left many schools unprepared.

Some education professionals point to a results-factory culture that has squeezed out pastoral care in recent years. Others blame the demise of Council CAMHS teams which has abruptly thrown the onus of care for young people with difficulties back on to schools.

Either way, the feedback is that many teachers feel under-equipped to help students who are having a hard time.

Understandably they feel especially exposed now the threshold for acute provision has increased, leaving more and more students with serious problems the responsibility of their schools.

The good news is that mental health in schools has made an emphatic return to the policy agenda. This means more funding, a new mental health champion and DfE commitment to ensuring that there’s a counsellor in every school.

For SSAT members, the topic is also the focus of a major session – led by the clinical psychologist and TV presenter Tanya Byron – at this year’s SSAT National Conference.

The message, of course, is that there is much more heavy lifting to be done to protect young people’s mental health. But it’s worth remembering that some interventions which help students with problems are actually questions of attitude, not expertise in mental health.

The truth is, it’s often the stigma and discrimination that go with mental illness that are harder for students to deal with than the illness itself.

Last November many hundreds of schools, including SSAT members, participated in Make Time 4 Mental Health, a month of assemblies and PSHE lessons to encourage students to understand and think about mental health as something we all have – just like physical health. This year’s campaign seems set to involve even more schools.

Organisers Time to Change offer free supporting resources for teachers. No special expertise is required to implement them, just a willingness to talk openly and break the silence around mental health problems.

Tanya Byron’s session is part of the SSAT National Conference: Quality & Equity, 3-4 December in Manchester. Places are free for SSAT members.

Relevant links

Apply for free Make Time 4 Mental Health resources here.

DfE – Mental health and behaviour in schools

The Children’s Society – The Good Childhood Report 2014

Visit Tanya Byron’s website.

Follow Tanya on Twitter: @ProfTanya

Follow SSAT on Twitter: @SSAT

Like SSAT on Facebook.

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