As a teacher working at Wallace High School in Stirling, I’m lucky to belong to a school that recognises the importance of and prioritises mental health. As wellbeing lead, I have the full support of my headteacher, which has allowed me to embed a whole-school approach to mental health, including training for staff and pupils.
However, this isn’t always the case; and in 2017, a SAMH survey of school staff found that two-thirds of teachers didn’t feel that they had received sufficient training in mental health to allow them to carry out their role.
Scotland’s Curriculum for Excellence is clear that health and wellbeing is the “responsibility of all” teachers in a school. In theory, it should permeate all subject areas, with the themes of health and wellbeing being taught, discussed or woven through subjects in every area.
Quick read: One in four primary pupils has 'hidden' social and mental health difficulties
One teacher’s experience: How it feels to return to school after being signed off with depression
Yet there’s insufficient information on which aspects of mental health or emotional wellbeing should be delivered at each level or stage of a child’s life. Teachers don’t receive facts, guidance, or suggestions on what or how to deliver this; or on how to introduce the topic of mental health appropriately or sensitively with pupils. If teachers don’t have this information, and have received little or no training on it, how can we expect them to know where to start? And how do they know that what they’re teaching is correct, accurate, and relevant?
For a long time, the stigma surrounding mental health has prevented conversations on mental health from happening in communities, schools, and in the teaching profession. Very little mental health continuing professional development (CPD) exists for teachers or school staff, and there are very few appropriate teaching resources.
We’re now starting to see mental health discussed more openly in education, and with it, a recognition that schools play a vital role in educating and supporting young people. Similarly, we’re seeing children and young people increasingly realising the importance of talking about and looking after our mental health and wellbeing, with more gaining the confidence to ask for help at school. Which is why we need to make sure that teachers are equipped with the right knowledge and skills to allow them to deliver support in practice.
Earlier this month, SAMH (Scottish Association for Mental Health) launched We All Have Mental Health, a new, free online learning resource which aims to equip teachers with the skills and knowledge to respond to pupils who are experiencing a mental health problem.
At SAMH we want to see urgent action. We All Have Mental Health isn’t the full solution, but it is a step in the right direction; forming part of our wider programme of activity in schools, in colleges, and with specialist mental health teams – all aiming to help young people and the adults in their lives.
Pam Steel is a teacher at Wallace High School in Stirling and education development officer at SAMH (Scottish Association for Mental Health)