At least two-thirds of teachers have not received adequate training in pupil mental health support and feel unable to do their job properly as a result, a major survey has found.
Research from the Scottish Association for Mental Health (SAMH) also shows that only one in 100 recall doing detailed work on mental health when they were student teachers.
The survey has fuelled calls for a national training programme for schools and specialist counselling services in every secondary.
SAMH surveyed 3,366 school staff and found that 66 per cent of teachers felt they lacked training in mental health to carry out their job properly, with only 12 per cent saying they had received enough training in issues such as self-harming and eating disorders.
One per cent of teachers said mental health was covered in detail in initial teacher education; 63 per cent said it was not covered at all. Thirty-four per cent of teachers said their school had an effective way of responding to pupils experiencing mental health problems.
‘Whole-school approach’ needed
SAMH chief executive Billy Watson said the high response rate and the heartfelt feedback it inspired showed that the need to improve mental health training was “clearly an issue [school staff] feel passionate about”.
One teacher said: “Teachers are not encouraged in this area. They are not provided support or time. They make flippant remarks in error. The current system is failing our young people.”
Another bemoaned a shortage of specialists in schools to help pupils with mental health issues. She said: “Faced with large classes and heavy teaching loads, teachers are unable to respond adequately…As a consequence, these pupils’ school experience is often unsettled and unhappy.”
SAMH, which underlines the importance of a “whole-school approach” to mental health, has also surveyed other school workers – including classroom support, administrative, catering and janitorial staff – and found that 69 per cent had never completed any training on mental health.
Mr Watson said: “With three children in every class experiencing a mental health problem by the time they’re 16, teachers and school staff should feel confident to spot the signs and be equipped to help.”
He added that the Scottish executive – since renamed as the Scottish government – had promised a programme to train teachers in mental health by 2005, yet “there is still no comprehensive programme in place”.
Mr Watson said: “SAMH is calling for a consistent approach to mental health in Scotland’s schools, which should include school-based counselling and mental health training for all staff.”
SAMH wants a staff training programme to be in place by 2018, which it said would require £4.4 million of initial investment. The association is also calling for counselling services to be in place in all secondaries by 2020 – noting that these have been available in both Northern Ireland and Wales for about a decade and that England’s Department for Education has made it an aspiration – at an initial cost of £9 million.
Andrea Bradley, EIS union assistant secretary for education and equality, called on national and local government to “pay close attention” to the SAMH findings, adding that teachers have reported that mental health issues are becoming increasingly common among pupils.
“It’s time that the long-standing taboos that surround mental health are swept aside, and the glaring gaps in the provision that should support positive mental health and wellbeing plugged,” she said.
Rowena Arshad, head of the University of Edinburgh’s school of education, said university staff could do “more to raise awareness of student teachers on issues of mental health by working more closely with organisations like See Me, SAMH, respect me and others”.
Professor Arshad added that her school of education was “dedicating a full week to equality-related themes in February… where issues of mental health, trauma and bullying are addressed”. This, she said, would “kick-start a greater focus” on such issues.
School Leaders Scotland general secretary Jim Thewliss said education professionals had to “up our game” on mental health, but that perhaps all local authorities had improved their preparation of school staff in this area.
Mental health minister Maureen Watt said the government recognised the importance of giving every pupil “access to emotional and mental wellbeing support in school”, and had started a review of personal and social education, including the role of counselling in schools.
She added that councils and schools should decide how to support and develop pupils’ mental wellbeing “on the basis of local circumstances and needs”. Some might provide school-based counselling, said Ms Watt, but other pupils “will be supported by pastoral care staff [who will] liaise with the educational psychological services, family and health services for specialist support when required”.