Half of pupils won't tell teachers mental health fears

Younger children less likely to speak to a member of school staff about their mental health worries, survey reveals

Tes Reporter

Schools' £17m mental health funding: What teachers need to know about the wellbeing package

Nearly half of young people would not speak to school staff about mental health concerns, a survey has found.

But almost one in four pupils said the main benefit of discussing mental health at school was that it was easier than talking to family, according to the report from the Anna Freud Centre charity.

The survey of 3,298 young people aged 11-19 suggests that one in five saw access to factual information from school and college staff as a key benefit of discussing mental health in school.


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Jaime Smith, director of mental health and wellbeing in schools at the Anna Freud Centre, said: “We need to support all school staff, parents and carers, governors, and students to work together to take a whole-school approach to mental health.

“This has never been more crucial than now, when it is essential that children and young people are able to turn to someone they can trust for support in times of distress, whether that includes their own friendship groups, school staff or the other trusted adults in their lives.”

More than half (52 per cent) of pupils identified an adult in school who they would talk to if they were worried about their mental health or the mental health of another pupil. But 48 per cent of respondents said they would not speak to anyone in school about their concerns.

The younger the children were, the less likely they were to speak to a member of school staff.

At age 11-13, 52 per cent said they would not speak to anyone at school, compared with 47 per cent of 14- to 16-year-olds.

The poll, which was carried out between November and January, found that the overwhelming majority of students (93 per cent) believe mental health and wellbeing should be taught in school and college.

In England, it is now compulsory for state schools to offer health education, including mental health issues,  as part of reforms to the Relationships and Sex education (RSE) curriculum.

But the report warns that the problem of poor mental health among young people is “escalating into a crisis” amid the coronavirus pandemic and months of school closures.

One in six children in England aged 5-16 reported having a probable mental health disorder in 2020, up from one in nine in 2017, according to an NHS study published last year.

Love Island star Dr Alex George, who has recently been appointed as a youth mental health ambassador for the government, said: “Following the return of schools, we expect many more children will need increased help.

"Without timely support, mental health distress in children and young people can have a devastating impact on their lives in the years to come.

“School staff will need help to fully support their students. It is only by all of us working together and talking openly about mental health that we can ensure all schools become mentally healthy.”

Paul Whiteman, general secretary of the NAHT school leaders’ union, said: “Teachers and school leaders are concerned about impact the Covid-19 pandemic has had on children’s mental health; they have seen the effects of lockdown on their students.

"There is a significant challenge for schools moving forward to support children’s recovery and wellbeing and to repair any damage done to their mental health.

“But teachers and leaders are not mental health specialists. The pandemic places even greater urgency on the calls NAHT has been making for additional resources to support the mental health and wellbeing of pupils, including increased capacity of social care, health and other services to meet the growing demand and to reduce waiting times.

“Schools cannot be the only place children or their families are able to turn for help with mental health."

A Department for Education spokesperson said: "We have announced a new £700-million plan to help pupils recover from lost learning...this funding can be used for pastoral support as well as academic, including increasing counselling support where pupils need it.

“Our Wellbeing for Education Return programme has funded expert advisers to train and support schools and colleges in every area of England and can make links to available local authority provision, including counselling.

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