Research published this month revealed 66% of staff in Scottish schools feel ill-equipped to help pupils with youth mental health problems. Commissioned by the Scottish Association for Mental Health, the survey highlighted the need to properly train teachers and support workers.
Mental Health training for teachers
Working in partnership with schools and local authorities, here at The Spark we are actively addressing that skills gap.
Through our Scottish Mental Health First Aid for Young People (SMHFA-YP) and Relationship First Aid for Teachers (RFA) courses we are equipping teachers and support staff to spot the early signs of mental distress in children.
The Spark’s training provides staff in schools with a better understanding of youth mental health issues and how to signpost families to suitable, professional support.
Many schools are now investing their Scottish Government Pupil Equity Funding (PEF) in these programmes.
Teacher training is available right now
Rolling out the SMHFA-YP and RFA courses to all schools in Scotland could bridge the current skills gap. Both programmes are proven to deliver improved outcomes for pupils, school staff and families.
Importantly this training is readily available to schools and local authorities right now. Meaning it can be implemented almost immediately – a significant advantage over the time-consuming and costly process of commissioning new training.
Whilst suitable training for teachers and school support staff is vital, it is not enough to simply train education professionals in mental health first aid.
The role of teachers and school support staff in the drive for better youth mental health must be very specific. Within the context of a comprehensive, nationwide strategy they must be considered as first responders.
Youth mental health support pathways
Training – through programmes like our Relationship First Aid for Teachers – can and should be used to develop a community of first responders within our schools.
From there suitable pathways to refer pupils and their families to professional support need to be in place.
School based counselling
It is optimal for school staff to work alongside and not in place of professional mental health experts. Teachers are best placed to pinpoint changes in behaviour that might highlight underlying issues that could benefit from counselling and specialist support.
The provision of school based counsellors allows pupils to be referred for support within their own environment. With minimal administration pupils can receive help within a matter of days.
Clearly defined pathways allows to focus on teaching and local Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services (CAMHS) to concentrate on the most complex referrals.
A comprehensive approach to youth mental health
The Spark has helped schools and local authorities make a genuine positive impact on the mental health of children and young people. Our commitment to this work will see us support over 5,000 school pupils this academic year. This will be achieved through school based counselling and education programmes.
Rolling out a comprehensive training programme for teachers and support staff in Scotland’s schools would be a worthwhile objective. To be effective however it must be matched with a similar commitment to placing professional youth counsellors in schools.
By training teachers and support staff as first responders, providing suitable referral pathways and embedding counsellors in schools Scotland can lead the way in improving youth mental health.
School based counselling, education programmes and support
The Spark is Scotland’s largest supplier of school based counselling and support services.
Our specialist Children and Young People counsellors are embedded within the school community, working in partnership with teachers, support staff and families.