Thursday, 15 August 2019

Mental Health Interventions in Schools

On 5th June, the Royal Society for Medicine hosted a workshop to explore the some of the issues - particularly the practicalities surrounding mental health interventions in schools. The event brought together medical and educational professionals and provided a forum to discuss ongoing projects supporting young people’s mental health, difficulties and potential courses of action for improvement. In the following, I summarise some of the talks.

Lord Richard Layard, Director of the Wellbeing Programme at the Centre for Economic Performance, London School of Economics, discussed the idea of schools having wellbeing as an explicit goal. The next step is to have as many schools as possible measuring progress towards this goal.

Richard proposed that one way to do this is through a wellbeing code debated on by children, teachers, parents, (every 2 years) regarding how people relate to each other in classrooms, assemblies, the playground, and so on. Such a code would cover not simply anti-bulling policies, but would take a broad and deep perspective on emotions and social relations across all young people’s experiences.

He discussed how the Healthy Minds project, a four year programme for secondary schools, is working towards some of these goals – its primary outcome for participating schools being a ten percentile point improvement in life satisfaction compared to the control.

Ceri Stokes, Assistant Head, and Designated Safeguarding Lead, Kimbolton School, spoke about the importance of provision of mental health training for teachers, but also the need to take seriously the resources required to address mental health in schools.

Teachers are expected to play a major role in recognising and managing poor mental health in pupils. But this assumes a lot more time than teachers currently have: time, resources and training all need to be allocated and targeted to improve the situation, and ultimately mental health outcomes in schools.

She also called for better communication between mental health experts and teachers, and that the former need to play a much more active role in the day-today decision making in pupils' lives. This might help them understand the realities and need to adapt to different and changing school and classroom demands, and ultimately enable them to deliver more specific training for teachers, as well as policies that will ultimately improve wellbeing.

Dr Crispin Day, Head of the Centre for Parent and Child Support, South London and Maudsley NHS Foundation Trust and Head of Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services, Research Unit, King’s College London, gave a workshop session on empowering parents and communities. The children of those with mental health issues have a 6/10 chance of developing mental health issues themselves. Crispin discussed how, by helping to support families (and schools have a distinct role in this), we are in a position to have a profound impact on children’s mental health outcomes.

He introduced the Empowering Parents Empowering Communities (EPEC) project, a method of prevention and early intervention that improves the wellbeing, community and connectedness of children and families. Parents undergo training by other local parent facilitators who have completed accredited EPEC training, and feedback suggests they absorb the content and change their parenting practice as a result. Results from randomised controlled trials, cohort studies, and performance in the real world suggest that the programme makes a significant difference to child outcomes, parental wellbeing and satisfaction.

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