Union calls on Theresa May to back up pledge to transform mental health support on offer in schools

PUBLISHED: 10:37 16 March 2017

Prime Minister Theresa May said the UK will be leaving the EU's single market             Picture: Jonathan Brady/PA Images

Prime Minister Theresa May said the UK will be leaving the EU's single market Picture: Jonathan Brady/PA Images

PA Wire/PA Images

A union has called on the government to back up its mission to change attitudes towards mental health issues suffered by young people.

"For too long mental illness has been something of a hidden injustice in our country, shrouded in a completely unacceptable stigma and dangerously disregarded as a secondary issue to physical health. "

Prime Minister Theresa May

Earlier this year Prime Minister Theresa May pledged to transform the mental health support on offer in workplaces, communities and, in particular, schools.

Every secondary school in the country will be offered mental health first aid training and new trials to look at how to strengthen the links between schools and local NHS mental health staff.

There will also be a major thematic review of children and adolescent mental health services across the country, led by the Care Quality Commission, to identify what is working and what it not.

The Prime Minister said: “For too long mental illness has been something of a hidden injustice in our country, shrouded in a completely unacceptable stigma and dangerously disregarded as a secondary issue to physical health.

“Yet left unaddressed, it destroys lives, it separates people from each other and deepens the divisions within our society.

“We need to transform the way we deal with mental illness in this country at every stage of a person’s life: not in our hospitals, but in our classrooms, at work and in our communities.

“This starts with ensuring that children and young people get the help and support they need and deserve – because we know that mental illness too often starts in childhood and that when left untreated, can blight lives, and become entrenched.”

Despite, the Prime Minister’s firm stance on the issue, National Union of Teachers general secretary Kevin Courtney believes her aims can only be achieved with significant investment.

“The mental health and emotional wellbeing of children and young people is of paramount importance,” he said. “At the moment, the number of children in need of support is outstripping services.

“Schools should play an important role in contributing to the review but providing training in mental health first aid will only be helpful if enough support and resources are put in place to support children and young people when they’re referred on from school.”

In an era of education when ‘exam factory’ culture is commonplace in our schools, Mr Courtney believes undue stress is being placed onto many students to succeed academically.

He said: “Excessive testing is making many children feel a failure from the start of their school life. Children are more than a score but the way the government chooses to measure schools is impacting very negatively on the mental health of teachers and students.

“We should assess children’s ability to be creative, collaborative and critical thinkers rather than using old fashioned performance indicators which generate teaching to the test in a narrow number of subjects, and puts excessive pressure on students.

“A strategy to promote child wellbeing and positive mental health should range far wider than the issue of first aid. It should aim to increase learning and playing outdoors for all age groups; it should increase funding for pastoral posts in schools; it should include more sport and physical activity in the school week; and it must protect subjects such as arts, music and drama which have such positive benefits for mental health.

“The government should work with the profession to shape an ambitious strategy for supporting happy, healthy young people.”

If you are experiencing issues with mental health, you can receive help and guidance by visiting mind.org.uk.

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