Why having a school mental health specialist as part of the staff team is vital to support young people’s mental health?

Young people mental heath support in schools

STEER Education’s Young People’s Mental Health in the UK report shows that now more than ever, schools and colleges need to be supported to address the complexities of young people’s mental health. We highlight parts of the report and what needs to happen to be able to provide additional and focused support in schools and colleges across the UK.

Key findings of the Young People's Mental Health in the UK report

STEER Education, working in partnership with Minds Ahead, analysed data from 15,000 secondary school students in the UK from before the start of the pandemic to up until December 2021. 

 The data shows a widening disparity between girls and boys’ mental health:

  • Girls aged 11 are now 30% more likely to suffer from poor mental health than boys of the same age. By the time girls reach 18, they are now more than twice as likely to experience poor mental health than boys of the same age.

  • Increasing numbers of girls now go to great lengths to conceal signs of distress, making it harder for teachers and education staff to identify and help them. While 60% of secondary school girls did this before the pandemic, an alarming 80% do so now. Unhealthy perfectionism and extreme self-control are also far more common. While 20% of secondary school girls had these traits before the pandemic, an alarming 80% do so now.

  • The pandemic appears to have affected girls’ mental health much more severely than boys’ – girls are now 33% more likely to experience poor mental health than those the same age as them before the pandemic. In contrast, boys are 12% more likely to do so. Girls’ mental health is most at risk between the ages of 14 and 18, the data shows.

  • However, compared to 2018, both boys and girls are now 40% less trusting of others, 25% less likely to take risks and 25% less able to choose an appropriate and measured response to life’s everyday challenges.

STEER Education and Minds Ahead fear that many schools, through no fault of their own, may only be identifying a fraction of students who are vulnerable and require support because of inadequate detection methods and a lack of training.

What needs to happen to support young people's mental health?

We need qualified, education-focused mental-health professionals as part of the staff team. We need school mental health specialists who know first hand the needs of their students and can, through training, development and supervision, match these to the culture and processes within the school.

Head Teachers are telling us that the School Mental Health Specialists have improved their understanding of the key issues in their school and are coming up with significant ideas to improve policy and practice, which the school is embracing.

The first cohort of School Mental Health Specialists at Minds Ahead, have already identified improvements to school practices to strengthen the protective factors. Some examples of those identified includes:
  • Sourcing staff training on cultural factors influencing mental health to better reflect their student population
  • Review key data (absence, behaviour, referrals etc.) to track for possible over-representation by ethnicity and other key cultural identities
  • Finding additional time so that more extra-curricular clubs can take place and staff have more time to plan and run them
  • Improve diversity and inclusion within the school council by adjusting the way it is run
  • Increasing the use of individual names (rather than ‘mum’, ‘dad’) in all written and spoken communication with parents
  • Review staff allocations and timing, in consultation with staff, to reduce absence rates
  • Apply mental health risk assessment for those identified as vulnerable or on the safeguarding file etc.

The School Mental Health Specialist programme is an school-based postgraduate course open to all schools and colleges teaching3-18 year olds. This includes special, alternative provision, independent and international schools. Participants will gain a postgraduate diploma (PGDip) or a full Master’s degree (MA) accredited by Leeds Becket University.  Download a free brochure of the programme here.


Find out more about our masters degrees to strengthen mental health in your setting:

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