On 17 June, the Department for Education released new guidelines to enable schools to support and help pupils who are experiencing mental health issues.
According to the latest Office for National Statistics (ONS) data, 9.8 percent of children and young people aged 5 to 16 have a clinically diagnosed mental health disorder. Acute and even mild mental health problems can throw an adult off balance, and so it is unsurprising that the research concluded that “too many young people are unfairly labelled as trouble-makers when in fact they have unmet mental health problems.”
Mental health can be affected by a number of things – abuse, parents splitting up or divorcing, bullying, but even just living as part of society can cause a breakdown in mental health.
There are many points in my own childhood that I can remember having an effect on what should have been a happy time such as losing my best friend in a car accident aged 4 and being severely bullied in year six. By the time I reached high school, I was a shadow of my former self and struggling with a depression that lasted for 20 years.
Mental health problems in children have, for so long, been swept under the carpet for many reasons, but mostly because nobody wants to think about a child being anything but happy and content. Add to that the stigma of standing up and saying that you have a mental health problem, and you have a real quagmire.
So, how can we help our pupils?
- Teachers often see children for longer periods than their friends, or even their parents. Having good relationships with pupils in your class or form is a great first step. If you know them, you will notice a change.
- Keeping a record of behaviour infractions will enable you to see patterns, for example, does the young man in 8B behave badly after weekends spent with his father? Has the girl in year 10 suddenly started wearing long sleeves and acting out? Spotting the signs early can lead to an intervention that can make all the difference.
- Promoting a positive attitude to mental health problems and having a whole-school approach to removing the stigma of mental health will create a safe-space in which pupils who are experiencing difficulties feel they can tell somebody.
- Robust anti-bullying and behaviour policies show pupils that they will be taken seriously if problems arise, and coupled with a Supporting Pupils with Medical Conditions Policy, parents too will see that they can come to you with concerns.
- Peer-counselling and buddying can give pupils who are struggling yet another safe environment where they can talk to somebody, they might not want to talk to a teacher and might feel more comfortable discussing the problem with another pupil.
If problems escalate, or if you are struggling to make a connection with the pupil, it may be necessary to involve outside agencies. There may be issues of Special Educational Needs and/or disability which might require a SENCO. Every case is different and should be treated as such.
We have the guidance along with a 3-Minute Read summarising the DfE’s document on TheSchoolBus.