School staff are being trained in mental health first aid, in the same way that they would be trained in physical first aid, as part of a new trial.
Researchers from the University of Bristol are looking at whether a first-aid training course of this kind can help teachers to recognise and combat mental health problems in pupils and in staff.
The aim of the Bristol study is to equip teachers to recognise the signs and symptoms of mental ill health. They would then provide initial assistance, before referring people on for specialist help, if needed.
The trial is taking place in 24 secondary schools, half in the Bristol area and half around Cardiff. But the academics are keen to hear from schools in other areas which might be interested in becoming involved at a later stage.
Around eight per cent of staff – between 10 and 18 people in each school – will be offered a two-day training course, to equip them with the skills to provide mental health first aid to colleagues.
A recent study by the Education Support Partnership found that 84 per cent of more than 2,000 teachers surveyed had suffered from mental health problems over the previous two years.
Judi Kidger, who is leading the trial, said: “Teachers who leave the profession often cite mental health problems as one of the contributing factors, so it’s crucial they get the right support.”
First place to go
Up to 16 teachers from each school will be offered a one-day training course in providing mental health first aid to pupils. These teachers will already be working in a pastoral role; for example, as form tutors or heads of year.
“[These staff] are presented to students as the first place to go in case of problems,” Dr Kidger said. “But, often, they’re not given any training at all.”
While there will be some overlap between the two sets of training, those teachers who are being trained to support their colleagues will also learn how to deal with common adult problems, such as workplace stress and bereavement.
“The nature of the conversation will be different, depending on whether it’s with an adult or a student,” Dr Kidger said. “But the basic skills for each course are more or less the same. Everyone trained will be working in a school. I think the training can be applied at all levels.
“We’d like it to be different people receiving the different training, so that there are more people trained in school. It’s too much overlap for one person to deal with teachers and students.”
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