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The Mental Health and Wellbeing Handbook for Schools’, written by Clare Erasmus, director of mental health and wellbeing at Brighton Hill Community School, lays out an intuitive and practical approach to mental health and wellbeing that any school can adopt to transform their mental health support for students.

In this extract from the book 'The Mental Health and Wellbeing Handbook for Schools', Clare discusses the government’s proposals for mental health in schools and her own response to this. 

This book was completed just after the UK Government released in July 2018 its Government Response to the Consultation on ‘Transforming Children and Young People’s Mental Health Provision: A Green Paper’ and Next Steps. On reading the consultation and the UK government’s response, I found some key positive messages:

  • The plan is to have a mental health lead in every school and college by 2025.
  • Mental health support teams will be created, and trained staff will be linked to groups of schools and colleges. They will offer individual and group help to young people with mild to moderate mental health issues, including anxiety, low mood and behavioural difficulties.
  • The UK Government wants to reduce the time it takes to get treatment from children and young people’s mental health services.
  • Further research will be conducted into how social media affects the health of children and young people.
  • Further research will be conducted into how to ensure better support for families who need more help.
  • Further research will be conducted into how to prevent mental health problems, bringing together different mental health experts.

However, I also had a number of problems with the proposals:

  • The mental health lead is not mandatory.
  • The training and financial provision for the mental health lead is still being developed. Who will train these teachers now, what will the training look like and who will pay for it?
  • The mental health support teams still need to be trained, put together and the logistics sorted out. Will children in all schools in all areas be reached or only some?
  • It is going to take some years to further research and report on findings on how mental health problems can be prevented. We need to change the narrative now to ensure that there is a lifestyle shift in our society so that we embrace a culture and environments that encourage positive mental wellbeing, resilience and holistic values.
  • The Green Paper is still reactive and does not look at education policy and policy makers. It fails to pledge further research into the impact of a narrow curriculum and rigorous assessment and exam culture on children’s mental health and wellbeing.

This book is perfectly timed to be the stepping stone before all these government measures come into force. The UK Government talks about schools having a ‘lead on mental health’ but this immediately makes you think about what must be done for students struggling with mental illness. Although this would be part of their brief, schools need to be doing so much more to develop a culture that fosters wellbeing for everyone. Wellbeing is a much more inclusive word that embraces the diversity of need – and that includes the wellbeing of teachers. It also acknowledges that all dimensions of development and experience contribute to a young person’s ability to flourish and learn.

Dr Sue Roffey wisely states: ‘Wellbeing is a not a panacea but a framework that fosters optimal outcomes for everyone and a supportive environment when challenges occur.’2 This handbook is for all current and future mental wellbeing leads and education practitioners who are wanting to make a start in developing a robust proactive and pre-emptive mental wellbeing framework that ‘fosters optimal outcomes for everyone’.

The series of chapters cover five key aspects, giving readers step-by-step strategies for working within the current constraints of school systems:

  • The school in providing curriculum time and space to talk about mental wellbeing and to develop a culture in promoting positive mental wellbeing.
  •  The individual students’ level of engagement and seeing relevance to take part.
  • The role of the staff and their own mental wellbeing.
  • The role of the parents in engaging in mental wellbeing conversations and promoting lifestyle choices that encourage positive mental wellbeing.
  • The extent to which the local community gets involved, and engaging the services of local external agencies.

If we get this right, we could help build a society where mental wellbeing is a universal priority and regarded with equal importance as physical health.
If we get this right, all staff would be trained in how to spot the signs and what language to use in holding that first conversation about a young person’s mental wellbeing.
If we get this right, all schools could have a robust and effective staff referral system for these young people which would ensure there is someone in the school concerned specifically with such matters.
Our role is not to diagnose or to replace child and adolescent mental health services (CAMHS) but if we are proactive and pre-emptive with the language we use and the emotional literacy we teach our students, we could help stop a situation from escalating.
If we want to be truly pre-emptive, it is important we change the language of learning with all teachers, parents and students, emphasising the following:

  • Our mental wellbeing is linked to our academic results and we need to ensure that as a society we don’t neglect the first in pursuing the second.
  • Failure can be seen as a route to success. It’s what we learn from our failures that is important.
  • Self-worth and success are not dictated by academic results.
  • The whole person has value, not just how they perform in exams.
  • Mental wellbeing issues arising in school can follow a student into adult life.
  • Jun 25, 2019
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