“The stats on mental health are really worrying,” says chartered clinical psychologist Emma Mahoney.
“Ten per cent of children and young people aged 5-16 have a clinically diagnosable mental health condition. So, if you think about the average UK classroom, that’s three in every classroom…And I would certainly say that’s borne out in what I see in clinical practice so it’s a really important issue.”
Speaking on the latest Tes podagogy podcast on World Mental Health Day, Dr Mahoney explains that although students are getting better at reporting mental health problems, there is still a stigma attached to admitting you are struggling, which means the problem could in fact be even bigger than statistics suggest.
World Mental Health Day 2018
“Young people are worried about being judged; they’re worried about harming future educational prospects or employment prospects. So I think that there may well be a whole raft of people who are struggling with mental health difficulties that we just don’t know about,” she says.
Early intervention is key to tackling the problem and Dr Mahoney believes that schools have an important role to play here, as teachers are well placed to intervene early.
One of the earliest signs of a mental health problem is a change in behaviour. This is something that teachers should be aware of, says Dr Mahoney. Whether it is “a previously sociable child who is suddenly always on their own”, a child whose academic performance drops significantly or a child “suddenly acting out in the classroom”, any sudden change could be a red flag that something might be going on.
How can schools support mental health?
Teachers may worry about how to respond in these situations, but Dr Mahoney has some simple guidance: “The advice I would give is to just ask. Very simply, ask if someone’s okay.”
She adds that the mental health of young people is “everyone’s responsibility”.
“If you’ve noticed that there’s something that’s concerning you, [it’s important] to ask, and not to feel that a child needs to be at a point of crisis before you intervene,” says Dr Mahoney.
And for those teachers who would like more support, she continues, training is available from organisations such as Youth Mental Health First Aid, which has produced a free toolkit that shows teachers how to spot the signs of mental health problems, how to respond, and how to advise and guide a young person to get help.
Dr Mahoney talks in more detail about the statistics on young people’s mental health, and about what schools could do to help, in the podcast. You can listen via your podcast provider (type in Tes the education podcast) or via the player below: