Children’s mental health must not be neglected any longer, says @learninghiveuk
Training for mental health leads in schools continues to be delayed; it is time schools took action to address the issue on their own terms
Despite plans being in place since 2017 to introduce mental health leads into a quarter of schools by 2023, recent developments have revealed that training of these staff has still not begun. According to after-school tuition provider Learning Hive, this shows that children’s mental health – which has worsened due to the pandemic – is still not being taken seriously enough.
The impact of isolation and school closures on children has been stark, with news now filtering through about increases in self-harm and warnings of “life-long consequences” for young people’s wellbeing. For Learning Hive, this issue will not be automatically solved now that children are back at school. Instead, programmes need to be put into place by schools and their partners independently of any delayed government initiatives.
Nayeer Afzal, Programme Director at Learning Hive, said: “Children have suffered acutely under lockdowns, with the isolation, monotony and frustration of not being able to live their normal lives taking a significant toll on their mental health. Even with schools now open again, the effects are likely to be long-lasting. This is especially true for those from disadvantaged backgrounds who have been the most disengaged from the school environment in the past 12 months.
“The continued delays to the introduction of mental health leads are disappointing, especially given the continued uncertainty over children’s futures. The children’s commissioner recently described mental health services for young people as ‘nowhere near sufficient’, which further underlines the nature of the issue. However, this situation also presents an opportunity for schools, teachers and other key stakeholders to get on the front foot and address the issue of mental health on their own terms.”
To achieve this, Afzal believes that schools should work hard to develop, integrate and maintain their own comprehensive mental health support schemes that will ensure issues are spotted and dealt with as a matter of urgency. Such programmes should incorporate sessions outside of normal curriculum topics, including wellbeing hours where children are encouraged to open up about mental health and can receive personalised support when they need it.
Afzal added: “The onus doesn’t need to be purely on teachers and school support staff to deliver all of this. External partners have a major role to play, as they can offer a high level of mental health expertise and sessions designed to fit around regular lessons, whether before, during or at the end of the school day. This helps relieve the burden on teachers – all of whom are working exceptionally hard to help pupils catch up in key areas of the curriculum.”
She concluded: “Children have often suffered in silence during the pandemic, so looking after their mental and emotional wellbeing should be our priority. With mental health leads in schools still some way away, schools have to take matters into their own hands. Collaboration and proactive thinking are key: by maximising both internal and external resources, school leaders can ensure they’re doing the very best for the pupils in their care.”