Chasing your proverbial tail when it comes to mental health in schools? You are not alone!

It is hard to ignore the rising swell of concern in the media and directly from school leaders about the incidence of so called ‘mental health’ issues. Some would argue this issue is getting worse whereas others would say it’s been around for a long time – wherever you land on this though, one thing is clear: Many school leaders and teachers are faced with a complex, difficult issue and are struggling to manage it.

As a society, we are often incredibly effective at dealing with a major issue or crisis but when it comes to prevention we can be less active. Take the NHS as an example, most agree that in an emergency or when dealing with a major issue it is incredible. However, when it comes to preventative services the NHS is much less active… Of course we all know the root of this – lack of time, resources and yep, you guessed it – money! I am sure many would make a convincing argument that the return on investment of putting preventative approaches in place makes it a no-brainier…

I can’t help but wonder whether this isn’t the same for mental health, particularly with the younger generation.

The statistics show that the mental health challenges in children are spiralling out of control and becoming a very real issue for our society. With an estimated 3 children in every classroom suffering with a diagnosable mental health issue, what more needs to be done before we start investing in preventative approaches?

I speak to Head teachers frequently and know that they are doing their utmost to deal with mental health challenges when they arise. These issues are incredibly complex and require outside intervention and often coordination with other agencies, who can also be highly resource constrained. I won’t take time here to explore the challenges with external services around mental health but suffice to say there is a lack of resources, huge waiting times and the prices are extremely high – this is a real issue.

We have heard some encouraging words from the government on greater investment in mental health services more broadly and in school specifically and we have to live in hope that this will deliver. In the meantime though, I can’t help wondering if we will fall into the old trap of ONLY dealing with crisis that is those already facing challenges (this is of course critical!) and neglect the hugely important preventative approaches.

I fear that without a step change in preventative and proactive approaches that allow us to instil a genuine culture of mental wellbeing in our schools and in our society we will still be talking about this issue in 10 years but the statistics will be far worse.

What are your thoughts, I’d love to hear your perspectives both positive and not so!