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Pupils in mental health 'crisis' say teachers

And NHS staff say mental health services are struggling to cope

Mark Gould

Monday, 25 June 2018

One in seven teachers say that at least one of their pupils has experienced suicidal thoughts and behaviours over the past year but that many are unable to access mental health services.

The survey of 300 teachers by the teenage mental health charity stem4 reveals the extent of what it describes as a "crisis" in British schools.

Nearly four in five (78%) teachers say at least one of their pupils has experienced a mental health issue over the past year. The results suggest that an average of 3.3 pupils per class has experienced a mental health issue recently.

Meanwhile a survey of over 400 frontline child and adolescent mental health service workers by the Association of Child Psychotherapists (ACP) reveals a service that is struggling to cope. Some 61% of respondents said that the NHS service they work in was facing downsizing.

Dr Nick Waggett, the chief executive of the ACP, said the report showed the lack of funding, and the loss of clinical expertise and leadership in the recent redesigns of the service could lead to patients not being offered the effective and timely assessment and treatment they required.

Nearly three-quarters (72%) said the threshold for access to services has increased in the past five years and a third (33%) described services as mostly inadequate or completely inadequate.

Two-thirds (66%) of the teachers in the stem4 survey say a pupil has suffered anxiety, while almost half have witnessed a student with depression. Other common problems include eating disorders, self-harm and addiction.

Teachers told the survey that just under half of students are unable to access the mental health services they need to make a recovery, with only one in five saying all these students were getting the treatment they needed. One in five say pupils needing specialist treatment typically had to wait more than five months for an appointment, and more than a third had feared at some point that a pupil would come to harm while waiting for treatment.

Nearly one in ten described their school’s mental health provision as “non-existent”, with 30% saying it was inadequate or very inadequate. Four in ten (40%) of the state school teachers surveyed say the need for mental health services has increased over the past year. Over half of the respondents believed family difficulties were contributing to their students’ problems while other common causes were exam stress and the emotional impact of bullying.

The findings will be discussed at a stem4 conference for education professionals in London on Thursday. Dr Nihara Krause, a consultant clinical psychologist and chief executive of stem4, said: “There’s an urgent need for better support mechanisms in schools, as well as decent funding for the range of mental health services children and young people need. Only then can teachers be confident that their students’ mental health is being cared for appropriately, freeing them to provide the educational input and support needed.”

Current government proposals to improve mental health provision for young people include funding for a senior mental health lead in every school. The stem4 survey shows that currently only 36% of schools have a teacher designated as mental health lead.

Dr Krause added: “Whilst the government has put forwarded proposals to address the growing mental health problem among children and young people, these initiatives will only be available in 20% of schools by 2023, with the full role out for a designated mental health lead in each school anticipated to be completed in 2025. This is woefully inadequate in addressing current need.”

A government spokesperson said: “Making sure children and young people have the right support when they need it is vital. That’s why we are giving an extra £300m to provide more support linked to schools, including new support teams to provide quicker support to children.

“We recognise there is more to do – we’ve extended our schools and NHS link pilot to deliver training in 20 more areas of the country this year to improve links between 1,200 schools and their local specialist mental health services.”

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