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Mental health should be taught in schools, like numeracy

Report puts schools at heart of mental health care

Jo Carlowe

Tuesday, 08 November 2016

Schools should be at the heart of improving mental health services for children and young people, according to a report, published today. 

The Value-Based Child and Adolescent Mental Health System Commission’s report: What really matters in children and young people’s mental health, led by Baroness Claire Tyler of Enfield, calls for fundamental changes to the way the Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services (CAMHS) are delivered. 

The report recommends that schools should be able to teach children and young people about mental health in the same way they teach them about literacy or numeracy. 

The Commission is made up of the Royal College of Psychiatrists, YoungMinds and Children & Young People’s Mental Health Coalition. Its report makes ten recommendations, including calling on governments to formally recognise schools as a crucial component of the Child and Adolescent Mental Health System in the following ways:

  • Schools should be able to teach children and young people about mental health in the same way they teach them about literacy or numeracy
  • Undertake mental health impact assessments to ensure that both schools/education policy and wider government policy and legislation are not detrimental to children and young people’s mental health
  • Ensure that schools are able to identify mental health issues and can easily signpost pupils to relevant support, either within the school or their local community, and have the accountability to do this. 

Commenting on the findings, Baroness Claire Tyler of Enfield, said: “The report drives home the need for high quality, system-wide leadership from all those involved in delivering mental health services, which takes full account of what really matters to all concerned, particularly the children and young people themselves. 

“This report provides a crucial missing piece of the jigsaw which bridges the gap between what we already know about children’s mental health and the challenges of making the fundamental changes that are needed in order to improve the mental health and wellbeing of children and young people.”

The Commission found schools and the wider education sector play a key role in the Child and Adolescent Mental Health System but that they often feel disconnected from the other parts of the system and need more support.

Dr Peter Hindley, Chair of the CAMHS faculty at the Royal College of Psychiatrists, said: “Children and young people spend nearly a third of their time in school, so teachers are instrumental in supporting their mental health. With the right support from service providers and the right training schools can become an important single point of access for referral through to providing access to the full range of services. 

“We can clearly see the positive impact where there is genuine integration of mental health services within schools has changed the culture and attitude towards mental health but in order for it to be truly effective, we need to see similar initiatives across the UK.” 

The Royal College of Nursing, has warned better resources will be needed to fulfil the recommendations made in the report.

Fiona Smith, RCN Professional Lead for Children and Young People’s Nursing, said: “With at least 10% of children and young people affected, poor mental health is one of the biggest health problems in the UK. 

“Current services simply don’t have the resources to meet this growing challenge and, as demand rises, those resources become more and more inadequate. 

“As the report highlights, better collaboration between services could make a real difference, but we need the right staff and processes in place. For instance, schools have the opportunity to help many more children get the help they need, but without the right numbers of school nurses and other health professionals this potential will never be fulfilled.

“When funding is tight, we need to get the very most out of the resources we have. If better coordination between services can improve children’s mental health, this needs to be put into action – as soon as possible.”

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