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Mental health takes a seat in the classroom

An improvement in the lot of young people with mental health problems, including a key role for schools, has been promised by ministers following the launch of a new framework of support in Edinburgh this week.

Addressing a conference on mental well-being among young people, Lewis Macdonald, Deputy Health Minister, pledged additional funding of pound;1 million over two years to back what he admitted was a challenging task.

Mr Macdonald said the aim was to ensure "consistent, high-quality care and support" for children, but admitted shortages of specialist staff were holding back improvements. The Royal College of Psychiatry last year estimated that another 30 consultant psychiatrists were required.

Louise, a 16-year-old who co-chaired this week's conference, said young people could help themselves by talking about their own experiences and giving others the confidence to help people they know who are living with mental health problems.

Official estimates suggest that around one in 10 young people (classified largely as those aged under 18) has problems "which are so substantial that they have difficulties with their thoughts, their feelings, their behaviour, their learning, their relationships, on a day-to-day basis".

The new framework, which underlines the importance of integrated services, was welcomed by HeadsUpScotland, the mental health body for young people.

Anne Clarke, its director, said the framework "heralds a new chapter in the promotion of positive mental health, the prevention of mental illness and delivery of improved services".

But the Scottish Executive's analysis of responses to the draft consultation on its plans reveals a sense of "the daunting scope and scale of work to be undertaken by NHS child and adolescent mental health services, and the difficulties for professionals in managing competing demands and priorities." The inadequacy of resources was the chief barrier cited.

The suggestion that the framework could be in position in five years was greeted with scepticism. "(Responses) commented that, in the context of the current financial climate, the sporadic nature of integrated communication and the lack of trained staff, this was a very ambitious proposal."

The final version of the framework has taken these views into account and is content with a 10-year time-scale, accepting that even this may be challenging.

The framework makes clear the crucial contribution of education. When asked what made them feel good, a common response was "doing well in school".

Pupil well-being will be served by an effective and supportive school, which develops all the skills of all the pupils, rather than "single topic-based approaches to improving emotional well-being".

While the framework adopts the mantra of the Scottish Schools Ethos Network on what makes for a positive school climate, it also acknowledges the needs of teachers and other staff for practical, emotional and social support in handling the issues that children bring to school with them.

School leaders and health promotion staff are urged to work with young people and ask for their views on what would be helpful for their emotional and mental well-being. The aim is to ensure their views are valued and that there is more awareness of mental health issues.

But the authorities may have their work cut out to convince pupils. One of the responses to the draft framework said there was a lack of communication which gave "the feeling of no chance of influencing how a school is run".

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