How schools can support young people’s mental health

Posted on: 05 Oct 2018
Posted by: Andrew McBroom

Andrew McBroom, assistant head (co-curricular and staff development) and mental health first aider at City of London School, discusses the vital role schools can play in supporting young people with their mental health.

Working with young people on a daily basis, the odds are that many of us would have come across a pupil struggling with their mental health. So likely in fact, that a recent study from teachers’ union, NASUWT, revealed that 96% of teachers believe they have come into contact with pupils experiencing mental health issues. Of these, 92% of teachers have identified that they believe pupils are exhibiting anxiety or panic attacks, 80% depression and 67% self-harm*.

Undoubtedly, these statistics are alarming. However, anyone who works with or cares for a young person has the opportunity to play an active role in supporting their mental wellbeing.

This year, the theme of World Mental Health Day, which takes place on 10th October, is ‘young people and mental health in a changing world’. With such an overwhelming majority of teachers and school staff coming into contact with pupils with mental health issues every day, it is important that every school uses this opportunity to reflect on how they are supporting their pupils’ mental health, and the effectiveness of the strategy they have in place.

Most independent schools pride themselves on their pastoral care offerings, often leading the way with student wellbeing initiatives. As such, it is great to see that more and more schools in our sector are making pupil mental health a priority and practising what they preach. Many are going one step further and training staff to recognise the signs of mental ill health in pupils, how to have a supportive conversation with a young person and where to direct a pupil if further guidance is needed.

At City of London School (CLS), we’ve adopted a whole school approach to mental health. By engaging our entire school community, including parents, we’ve been able to create a mutually supportive environment where mental health can be discussed openly by students and staff alike, and where problems can be addressed and not ignored.

Offering Mental Health First Aid (MHFA) training to staff has played a key part in this. At CLS, we have ensured that our staff have MHFA skills. Equipping our teachers with the tools, knowledge and confidence to speak to a pupil about their mental health has been invaluable. And, by helping teachers better understand how to support their own mental health through this training, they can set an example to our young people.

In addition to upskilling staff in MHFA, the school offers full-time counselling provision and has ensured that key pastoral members of staff have received specialist training. Furthermore, staff are offered ‘supervision’ opportunities to discuss the complex cases they encounter. And, to further solidify the importance of mental health on the school’s agenda, this September we have appointed a full-time Pastoral and Wellbeing Advisor.

Research has shown that mental ill health often starts in young adulthood – with more than half of mental health issues starting by age 14 and 75% developing by age 24**. As pupils navigate growing up in a changing world, schools are in a unique and empowering position to oversee pupil mental wellbeing. Seeing first-hand the change it has made to our school culture, we would encourage other independent schools to treat staff and pupil mental health as a top priority.

To start schools on this journey, for World Mental Health Day, MHFA England has created a #HandsUp4HealthyMinds toolkit, offering a new set of free resources to help schools, teachers and parents to support young people with their mental health – helping them grow up happy, healthy and resilient in a changing world. We urge more schools to act now to take a proactive step towards supporting young people with their mental health.


** Kessler (2005), Lifetime Prevalence and Age-of-Onset Distributions of DSM-IV Disorders

About Andrew McBroom

Andrew McBroom is assistant head (co-curricular and staff development) at City of London School.