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The Right Support will Empower Teachers to Handle Mental Health and Wellbeing Issues

The right support will empower teachers so they are more confident and more skilled at handling mental health and wellbeing issues, says Dr Brian Jacobs...

  • The Right Support will Empower Teachers to Handle Mental Health and Wellbeing Issues

When she got back from her primary school teaching, my wife turned to me and told me of two children in her class that she just did not know what to do with.

They worried her and frustrated her.

One was disrupting the class with his behaviour – calling out, making noises, scraping his chair on the ground and interrupting other children when they were trying to work. It made her life trying to teach the whole class just so difficult.

The other, a girl, in some ways worried her more. Her behaviour had changed from a happy child to one that rarely smiled, her work was going downhill and my wife had found her banging her head against a wall by herself on more than one occasion.

She knew something was amiss for both children but felt she did not know what to do.

She had tried the “pull your socks up” approach and she had tried to talk to each of them but without any change that she could see.

She confided that she felt really worried for both children but also thought that she felt ill-prepared to deal with these situations and, if honest, that it was not her job.

She had shared this information with her SENCo, who suggested speaking to the parents and a referral to CAMHS before ruefully saying that they might well turn down such referrals as they are chronically swamped with work.

So, what was going on? What could she do about it? She felt that she was not alone in this sort of predicament and she had certainly never been taught how to handle these situations.

She was right in many ways. Teacher training focuses on teaching, not on mental welfare and many have felt that it is just not the job of teachers. They are grossly overloaded with their day job.

Some have gained real skills in this area, learning on the job, but many feel ill prepared and worried about doing harm and the extra work involved.

However, as society is realising the sheer scale of mental health difficulties among children and young people, it becomes clear that society’s past approaches of having children seen in specialist mental health services or making school counselling available to a few children are insufficient.

What is being done to help? The government, through Health Education England and the Department for Education, is working to set up a network of specialist teams who will be co-located in schools and CAMHS to help provide specialist consultation and work in schools.

Coupled with this is the intention to build a network of teachers with specialist knowledge and skills in the area of mental health.

At MindEd, we have created a rich source of learning material online at minded.org.uk.

This is completely free to use – it has been funded by the government.

There are many ‘bite-size’ e-learning sessions, including several learning paths for teachers and others in education.

A session takes about 20 to 30 minutes to work through and if you register, you can keep an online record of what you have done.

You can, however, use the site without registering.

We also want to empower teachers so they are more confident and more skilled at handling mental health and wellbeing issues and agendas in schools and colleges.

We wish them to feel their burdens are lightened and their daily jobs eased and less difficult, while being better equipped to deal with and enact whole-school support for the wellbeing of all pupils.

We work to achieve this through a values-based approach that helps ensure teachers know how, where and when to access the very best evidence and knowledge that they can apply in their work.

My wife has used some of the MindEd sessions on ADHD and some of our new material to help build teacher skills around self-harm and on talking to children about difficult subjects and material on tics and twitches that have helped her to understand better the difficulties these two children were having.

Working on the recent self-harm material is giving her the confidence to talk with and get help for the young depressed girl in her class. She has also discovered that we have sessions co-designed with parents to help them with their children’s difficulties.

Have a look. You might find it helpful.


Dr Brian Jacobs is a child psychiatrist and lead editor for MindEd, a large e-learning programme (two of several) for a consortium of Royal Colleges, the BPS, Young Minds and The National Children’s Bureau on aspects of child mental health. Find out more at minded.org.uk.

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