One mental health first-aider a school not enough, warn experts

Tackling pupil mental health is ‘a huge burden’ on teachers when they are the only mental-health first-aider in their school

Mental health: hundreds of children waiting over a year for help

The DfE’s pledge to provide every secondary school with a member of staff trained in mental health first aid is not enough, experts are warning.

Teachers who are the only mental-health first-aider in their schools have a “huge burden” to bear and their own mental health becomes at risk, it is claimed.

Psychologists and educationalists attending a panel discussion yesterday organised by the All-Party-Parliamentary Group on Psychology at the House of Commons heard that mental health training should be provided to all teachers as part of initial teacher training.

Read: Teachers to be trained as 'mental health first-aiders'

Insight: Pupil mental health crisis 'underestimated' 

Chair of the group, SNP MP Lisa Cameron, told the gathering: “One person [per school] being trained in mental health first aid is not enough. One person can’t do it all.

"They need to actually be a teacher as well. It’s important that we take on board what people are saying today and pass it on to the minister for mental health.”

It was just under two years ago when the government pledged £200,000 to pay for the training of 3,000 mental health first-aiders in every secondary school, including how to deal with issues such as depression, anxiety, suicide and self-harm.

At the time Prime Minister Theresa May said tackling poor mental health was “a huge challenge,” while the NAHT headteachers’ union said the investment was “only a first step”.

But psychologist Julie Hulme, of Keele University, speaking after yesterday's event, told Tes: “That individual teacher is still having to teach and still has to mark books and do everything else on top of dealing with a mental health caseload.

“And then they can’t get out for things like teaching-related CPD. What if they go off sick? I know someone who is part-time who does this role, so what if something happens on a Friday when she doesn’t work? It’s a huge burden on these teachers and I think their own mental health becomes at risk.

“It’s about a teacher being able to spot that a child is in tears because they’ve had a bad morning or because they’ve had some substantial trauma and need psychological support. And if I as a teacher can see what that child needs, I can either refer appropriately or I can just sit with that child at lunch – but teachers don’t know because they’re not getting that training.”

A Department for Education spokesperson said: “We are clear that initial teacher training should cover content that will be useful and relevant for new teachers. This includes information about how mental health factors can affect pupils’ education. 

“We are also funding training for senior mental health leads in schools and colleges. As well providing training for teachers about mental health awareness – so far, we have trained over 1,300 teachers.”

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