How my school “tries” to help those with MH issues #mentalhealth

Teachers talking on twitter is a bit like peering in other school windows, you learn so much and get inspired.  I was inspired by several blog posts which looked at how they helped students with mental health problems. It seems we all do it in varied ways and have staff all with different titles but who have a similar purpose, to help the child.  This is how my school tries to help the child.

To start with all staff have had basic MH training from Dick Moore ( one of the best insets I have had the pleasure of organising).  Staff can and do request to go on more specific inset, several have wanted to know more about self harm, others about teenage abusive behaviour and more recently anxiety.  These staff feedback to those that are interested in a lunch time session. Pastoral CPD asks tutors to consider how they address MH issues and this is discussed with the Housemaster/mistress and Headmaster once a year. Our Tutor groups are small.  22 as a max in the younger years and by the time they reach sixth form, the tutor group is normally 16 or 17 students.  The student will have had this tutor for 2 years so has a good relationship with them. Our Pastoral system works well with the majority of our students.

However there are students who need more. Our health centre is slightly off school grounds, in a separate and quiet building.  It has a little garden, with chickens for students to have some time to relax. We always have two nurses on duty, 8:15 until 5, who are trained in MH first aid. They are completely confidential and will only tell staff ( and the parent) information if the child is 11yrs and under or if the child has given permission. 60% of the time the child is happy for information to be passed on.  The nursing team have an excellent relationship with the local doctor and CAMH although this is not always the direct route as my school is on the border of three counties.

We also have two counsellors, who between them work full time, who are housed in the health centre.  They have their own room, which is private but not unsafe from a safeguarding point of view. Students can self refer through a secure email address but the majority of the appointments are booked with the nurse. Both counsellors are very different in their style and this works well as students may not relate to one but find the other helpful. There isn’t a waiting list but the counsellors are busy.  Students can come for a one off or they can come for 10 sessions.  After this point a review is made with the nursing team although the pupil is still confidential. This is challenging as the counsellors rarely discuss a student with anyone.  This includes the parent or boarding housemaster, which can take some getting used to. As a DSL this has been a challenge and recently we as a team have written a new code of conduct and discussed their threshold levels. I spent a lot of time looking to see if other schools have written a separate code of conduct but to no avail.  ( if anyone would like to see ours, feel free to comment and request).

The students therefore have fantastic support and there is very little stigma to attending but it is expensive, a cost that I have to justify to the governors every year. This is challenging when I don’t have the data they want, names, issues etc. I go with a list which is so wishy washy, for example it might say “pupil A saw the counsellor 3 time, pupil B goes at the beginning of each term”. However the governors have faith in me and my team and continue to support us. Which is great and I feel very privileged.

There are a few issues though, so I won’t pat myself on the back yet:
Pupils could miss lessons, which can add to more stress levels.
Pupils only get support during term time and the summer is a long holiday.
Parents might not be aware they are seeing a counsellor, which can add to issues of mistrust and further anxiety.
Doctors / CAMH hear that they are getting this support and don’t rush to get them assessed.

So now you have seen what we do as a school you can see why I get annoyed when I see tweet / media coverage saying that schools should do more to help students with MH issues.  I agree as stated above that we aren’t perfect and I am sure that many schools aren’t as lucky as our school is, but I think we are doing a lot more than people give us credit for.

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

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