Warning on mental health ‘crisis’ in schools

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Schools are becoming “waiting rooms” for children with mental health issues, charities have warned, with a rising tide of young people unable to access the services they need.

Charity Stem4, presenting the findings of a major research project, has said teachers and headteachers are increasingly finding themselves on the front line when it comes to support services. While much-welcomed Government proposals include funding a senior mental health lead in every school by 2025, they said, it will be a painfully slow process and in the meantime will be “woefully inadequate”.

And as teaching unions in Yorkshire warn children as young as five are now presenting with mental health issues, there are calls for interim measures to be brought in urgently to prevent an emerging crisis in schools.

“We are facing an emerging crisis and yet there are a number of children and young people who are not getting the support they need,” said Dr Nihara Krause, chief executive of Stem4 and consultant clinical psychologist. “It’s very difficult for teachers - they have become a waiting room support for children that need mental health care. What is happening is not enough. We need to invest, in training, in adequate resource, to deal with this - and quickly.”

Research presented at Stem4’s education professionals conference yesterday centred around surveys of than 300 schools and colleges carried out by the charity and released this week.

At least three children in every school class had experienced a mental health issue recently, it suggested, while one in seven teachers reported seeing students with suicidal thoughts.

Two-thirds of teachers said they had witnessed anxiety in students in the past year, with almost half reporting they had seen students with depression.

But, the survey found, students were unable to access the mental health services they needed in just under half of cases, with a third of teachers saying they feared a pupil would come to harm while waiting for treatment. Furthermore, while 40 per cent of the teachers surveyed said the need for mental health services had increased over the past year, one in three admitted their own school’s provision was inadequate.

“Teachers need urgent support now,” said Adrian Joice, NASUWT member covering East Yorkshire. “Many, many young people are suffering from mental health issues, and teachers are struggling to cope.”

Children as young as five are exhibiting mental health issues at schools in Yorkshire, he said, with some children, who see a school setting as a sanctuary, becoming agitated at home time.

Education settings need greater access to social workers and education psychologists, he said, but, with a shift away from local authority governance, there is a rising fear over changing policies.

“With the growth of academies, there are some local authorities in Yorkshire that are providing less and less support for schools to support children with mental health issues,” he warned.

It comes after news that a new charter is to be created by the University Minister to dramatically improve mental health support in England.

A Government spokesperson added: “We want to improve mental health support for every young person, which is why our Green Paper plans include a new workforce for schools and colleges to provide timely and effective support for children – backed by £300m to fund training for all schools.

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