Around three children in every classroom have a diagnosable mental health condition. While awareness of mental health issues in the education system is improving, the amount of support both teachers and students receive can vary from school to school.
For teachers, the welfare and well-being of students is obviously a priority. As such teachers will want to feel confident in supporting young people with mental health issues. If you’re a teacher, this post may help.
Many schools will now have a mental health policy. This might include information such as what to do in an emergency, record keeping, signposting and confidentiality. It’s a good idea to review this policy regularly so you know the procedure if you are worried about a young person.
If a young person comes to you
If a young person approaches you about their mental health, it can be hard to know what to do or say. It’s likely that the young person isn’t entirely sure what to say either. It might have taken them days or even weeks to come and talk to you – it can take a lot of courage to talk about mental health. It’s important to try and listen to them, and not to panic.
If you need to tell someone else about what they’ve told you, try to let the young person know. If they’re aware who you need to talk to and why, they won’t feel like you have betrayed their trust. Papyrus have some great information about how to talk to young people about suicide and mental health.
In the classroom
Classrooms can be hugely anxiety-provoking. When we have depression, our brains can slow down. It can be hard to concentrate and focus, and reading and writing are sometimes a challenge. If a young person discloses to you that they’re struggling, have a conversation with them. Talk about their symptoms, how they affect their studies, and how you can help.
Small things can make a difference. The student might find it helpful to sit near the front and take five minutes out of the classroom if they need a breather. Alternatively, they may prefer to sit nearer the back as it may feel safer for them. You could also discuss how their depression affects their ability to complete homework or coursework, and work with them to find ways of managing this.
Know your staff
As well as having different policies, different schools have different support staff. Some may have a school nurse, while others may have a school counsellor or learning mentors. Keep yourself familiar with who works in your school, so you know where to signpost a young person to if they need help.
Have a point of contact
It can be very confusing for young people if they have lots of different people involved in their care. Having one teacher who they know and trust can be really helpful. As a point of contact, you might check in with a young person regularly, or could just be someone who they can approach if they have a problem.
Working with Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services (CAMHS)
Some children and young people may have a level of depression that needs more help than school can offer. It may be appropriate to refer them to Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services. It is likely that your school will have a staff member in charge of pastoral care who would make a CAMHS referral if necessary.
Once a young person has been referred to CAMHS, a worker from CAMHS will be in touch with the school. They will seek to work together to help tyour student, and make sure that you’re not offering the, conflicting messages.
If you are concerned about the safety of a young person, it would be appropriate to contact the safeguarding officer in your school.
If a young person has a diagnosed mental health condition, they could be entitled to reasonable adjustments and/or special consideration around exams. This could include things like having extra time or sitting their exams in a smaller, quieter room. If you think a young person you’re working with could be entitled to this, you would need to speak to the exams officer at your school.
Form time and assembly
You may want to run an assembly or form period on looking after your mental health, or reducing the stigma surrounding mental illness. Time to Change offer lots of free resources to help get people talking, as well as session plans. You could also download our free self-care starter kit to share with your pupils, or pop it on the wall as part of a display.
In primary school, you’re more likely to have a consistent classroom. It could help to have a ‘calm down’ corner or zone in your classroom when your pupils could go if they need some time out. It could include things like blankets or glitter jars. It’s also likely that parents are more aware of things going on with their child at that age, so you may be able to work together to help the child.
MindEd host a huge range of courses on all sorts of mental health topics relating to children and young people. It’s free to sign up to and all the courses are written by professionals in an easy-to-read format.
Young Minds have lot of training and resources for schools.
Place2Be have skilled practitioners delivering services in a number of schools across the UK and provide support for children, parents, and teachers.
MindMate have a range of resources for working with children and young people.
MiLife work to improve children and young people’s emotional wellbeing.
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