Mental Health and Behaviour in school

The department for education updated the Mental Health and behaviour in schools in March. It is departmental advice and should be read along side with “Mental Health problems in children and young people” and “Counselling in schools : a blueprint for the future”. I suddenly feel like I am writing a school policy but sometimes that’s all that actually happens when new documents are sent out by the government. But in this case I actually feel like some guidance and reassurance has been given.

I think we can all agree that Mental Health has been one of the hardest challenges to keep up with in schools. Pupils are being diagnosed with various conditions, many of which staff and school are unaware of and worry about how best to support or help the students. Many students will now openly discuss their illness and the medication they are on, without feeling judged. And the list of diagnosed mental health issues seems to be getting longer.

Conduct disorders – anger management issues is a good example of this
Anxiety ( of huge variety and the one that seems to be on the rise in my experience) Depression
Hyperkinetic disorders – ADAH is one example
Attachment disorders
Eating disorders
Substance misuse
Deliberate self harm
Post traumatic stress

And of course some students have a mix of these. According to the guidance 9.8% of 5 to 16 yr olds have been diagnosed with a further 10% who haven’t. So 20% of our students in our schools have a mental health issue. However if you teach PSHE you know that the statistic is that 1 in 4 of us will have a mental health issue at some point in our life.

So back to the guidance, what do they suggest we do.
Promote positive mental health – build resilience in our pupils through:

  • a whole school approach, policies, schemes of work, PSHE lessons, assemblies etc
  • Clear policies on behaviour and bullying, an ethos expecting high standards
  • Clear system for pupils and staff so that they can raise problems
  • CPD for staff
  • Support for those who have a Mental Health problem, including working with outside agencies
  • counselling

Many schools are doing this already and this guidance just supports the hard work teachers are doing. My HoD for PSHE thrives on advice like this, it has inspired her to introduce a biannual “Good Health Week” where we look at Mindfulness, stress relieve, drink, smoke and drug talks and include Cancer and a great talk from MIND. The whole school gets involved and it has become a set date in the Calendar. It rotates with e safety week.

The guidance that I have taken, is to focus on the CPD. I feel we have awareness but staff don’t know how best to support. We want to get the best grades for the student but how much do you push a student that you know has expressed suicial thoughts? Staff are so concerned that they are going to put their foot in it and say the wrong thing that sometimes they don’t say anything. They encourage but are perhaps not realistic enough. Pupils need support but they need preparation for the real world and if in school we keep saying ” don’t worry, you don’t have to hand in that piece of homework, I know you have a lot going on”, is that helpful for the pupils GCSE, A Level or work?   It’s a balancing act and one that staff are desperate for guidance with. This is where working with outside agencies is vital.  On page 16 of the document, they have introduced a SDQ ( strengths and difficulties questionnaire) to aid with referrals. Something I will be asking the school nursing team to look into and see how we can use this in our school. Hopefully it will give us some guidance on how to best support / push / encourage our students without effecting their mental health, but will also speed up the waiting time for students to be assessed by CAMH.1 in 3 colours

There are so many great web sites for advice with Mental Health. The two that I have found most useful are youngminds and MIND. In fact I ran the marathon two years ago ( well walked a bit) to raise money for MIND. The main reason I wanted to raise money was for those who live with or are best friends of someone suffering. For the 20% who suffer from a mental health issue there are friends, siblings or dependants. They need support just as much. So for a class of 30 pupils, say 6 suffer at some point and say they have 2 friends each and 2 of your class have a sibling who may be suffering, then that could be 2/3rd of your class effected by Mental health issues in some way. I realise I have generalized a lot here, but I think it makes my point.

As a school we try to the best for all children. Training is therefore the next stage and one that I am focusing on.

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Assistant Head ( DSL) at a boarding school. Interested in all PSHE and safeguarding topics.

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