School staff ‘need mental health training’

Many more school staff need to be trained to help pupils with their mental health problems, according to a leading charity.

A survey by the Scottish Association for Mental Health (SAMH) suggested two-thirds of teachers felt ill-equipped.

SAMH chief executive Billy Watson called on the Scottish government to create a programme this year to train all school staff in mental health.

Ministers are carrying out an audit of school-based counselling.

Mental Health Minister Maureen Watt said: “Every child and young person should have access to emotional and mental well-being support in school.”

Mr Watson said teachers had shown an “appetite for engagement”.

SAMH conducted an online survey between August and September last year, to which more than 3,000 school staff responded, including teachers, classroom assistants, janitorial, admin and catering staff.

It said 66% of those who responded did not feel they had received sufficient training in mental health to allow them to carry out their role properly.

Only 12% of teachers who responded felt they had adequate training in mental health.

Just 1% of respondents recalled doing detailed work on mental health when they were student teachers.

A third said their school had an effective way of responding to pupils experiencing mental health problems.

Mr Watson said the volume and the pace of the responses from school staff to the survey was “quite remarkable”.

He said: “It tells us this is a really hot topic in schools and we can really make some difference in terms of the training that is available for all schools-based staff for the sake of our young people’s mental health.”

The charity chief claimed three children in every classroom experience a mental health issue before the age of 16 but often struggle to get the help they need.

He said this could affect their lives as adults.

There is currently no national strategy for how schools should deal with mental health.

The Scottish government said it had started a national review of personal and social Education – including consideration of the role of guidance and counselling in schools.

Mr Watson said the Scottish government was “well-intentioned” but he would like to see the action for training teachers in schools “accelerated”.

The charity would also like to see counselling services across all Scotland’s secondary schools by 2020.

Mental Health Minister Ms Watt added: “Education authorities and all those working in our schools have a responsibility to support and develop the mental well-being of pupils, with decisions on how to provide that support taken on the basis of local circumstances and needs.

“Some will provide access to school based counselling. Others will be supported by pastoral care staff and liaise with the Educational Psychological Services, family and health services for specialist support when required.”

Mental health first-aiders

Scott Pennock, the head teacher at Wallace High School in Stirling, said his school had focused on mental and emotional health – training more than a dozen staff to be mental health first aiders and involving pupils as mental health champions.

He said: “It is really important that the culture within the school is one of wanting to talk about mental and emotional health and being more open about it so we can identify issues and address them.”

The head teacher said his staff had embraced the training and did not find it an extra burden on top of their busy workload.

“All good teachers view pastoral care for pupils as the first part of their job,” he said.

“Teachers understand that if they are supporting young people in their mental and emotional wellbeing then that is helping them to learn and to achieve.

“To me, mental health is at the core of the teacher’s job and the core of their duties. It is not something you add on to it. I think our teachers genuinely see that and support it.”

Pamela Steel, a PE teacher at the school as well as lead teacher for mental health, said she was driving the project with “passion”.

She said: “Mental health first aiders are not trained as counsellors and we are not medically trained but we are there to support someone who is close to crisis or somebody who is just worried about how they are feeling.

“We can give them information or refer them to their GP or, most importantly, just give them time to talk about how they are feeling.”

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