Teachers 'unable to support pupils’ mental health’

Teachers lack training to help pupils with mental health issues, and many struggle with their own problems, poll shows

Henry Hepburn

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Most teachers feel they lack the training to help pupils with mental health problems, while around half say the pressures of the job have contributed to them suffering from conditions such as depression and anxiety themselves.

In a survey by Mental Health Foundation Scotland, only 13 per cent of teachers said they had received “mental health first-aid” training, and 71 per cent said they lacked the skills to help pupils with their mental health difficulties.

Just over half of the teachers questioned said the job had either led to them developing a mental health problem or had made an existing condition worse.

More than nine out of 10 would like to see mental health training become a key part of initial teacher education. The foundation said figures showed that some courses provided student teachers with as little as 15 hours of training in health and wellbeing over four-year courses.

Some 85 per cent of the teachers surveyed said that if they were given more training in this area, it could help them to better take care of their own emotional condition.

Toni Giugliano, policy manager at Mental Health Foundation Scotland, said: "It's remarkable that despite the growing number of children struggling to cope, mental health is still not a core part of the teacher-training curriculum.

"Understanding child brain development, emotional vocabulary, self-esteem, self-care and managing stress are not extracurricular – they should be core to what teachers learn from day one and throughout their careers to help them perform their job.”

Teachers 'suffering mental health problems'

He added: "Our research also shows that around half of teachers have struggled with their own mental health due to the pressures of their job. It's clear that investing in training will not only benefit pupils but will also help teachers look after their own emotional health.

"Stress in adults can often leak into young minds, which is why addressing teacher mental health is equally important. We need a whole-school approach where pupils and staff can support one another to thrive."

Mr Giugliano added: "Unless we put more emphasis on nurturing emotionally literate, resilient children, we'll continue to see more of them in crisis and distress."

The foundation said: “This was a qualitative piece of research involving 418 primary and secondary teachers directly and two focus groups. We find this methodology a lot more reliable, particularly for sectoral/professional groups. An additional two focus groups were added, focusing specifically on the issue of stigma.”

The Scottish Children's Services Coalition said the results of the survey were "no surprise", despite it having been estimated that around three children in every classroom have a mental health problem.

A spokesman said: "Like the Mental Health Foundation, we have long called for mental health training to be embedded in the teacher-training curriculum – and training should not just be restricted to teachers, but to all school staff, in a whole-school approach to mental health."

A Scottish government spokesman said mental health first-aid training was being provided in schools, and that this year's programme for government had included a number of measures aimed at improving mental health care for young people. He also stressed that work was taking place to reduce teacher workloads.

The spokesman added: "Education is our number one priority and we recognise the pressures and challenges facing teachers, such as those highlighted by Mental Health Foundation Scotland. That is why we have taken action to reduce teacher workloads, clarifying and simplifying the curriculum framework and removing unnecessary bureaucracy.”

He said that, on top of a commitment to offer counselling in schools, resources would be provided to improve school staff understanding of mental health. This would add to the work already underway on mental health first-aid training for schools.

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Henry Hepburn

Henry Hepburn

Henry Hepburn is the news editor for Tes Scotland

Find me on Twitter @Henry_Hepburn

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