Pupil mental health and wellbeing: guidance for staff
With further funding cuts to external services, the duty falls to schools to provide timely and appropriate support to pupils with mental health issues.
Given that these issues can encompass anything from anxiety and depression to self-harm and eating disorders, staff need a varied skillset if they are to support each child effectively.
Grief and trauma
Coping with the loss of a loved one or a public tragedy can be especially traumatic for children and young people. While school staff might be able to identify those pupils whose behaviour becomes challenging in response to grief, there are other emotional changes that can be more easily missed.
Our advice for senior leaders, middle leaders and teachers will help you offer timely and appropriate support for pupils who experience grief. Compassion is key, and the most important you can do is be emotionally present.
Traumatic events can trigger a range of emotional responses, ranging from acute fear to a profound sense of anger and hopelessness. In the wake of a public tragedy, schools must be ready to offer a measured response. Learn more about responding to trauma in public life.
Healthy body, healthy mind
Schools have a duty to promote a healthy and balanced relationship with food. This is particularly important for those young people whose habits may suggest the onset of an eating disorder.
By addressing the emotional needs of these pupils, you will:
- help them to regain some control of their feelings
- reduce the risk of them starving, bingeing or purging.
If you are concerned about the prevalence of eating disorders or unsure how to intervene effectively, read our article on the warning signs and appropriate responses.
Encouraging young people to make healthier lifestyle choices is easier than you might think. Check out our blog post on how you can teach value- and health-promoting behaviour.
Break the cycle
A school's response to self-harm should aim to break the cycle and support a positive path towards recovery. This means:
- addressing the underlying thoughts and feelings
- replacing the self-harm with a healthier means of coping.
Our Managing Self-Harm training course will help you raise awareness of self-harm throughout your school, and make sure that you and your colleagues can identify, understand and respond to the early warning signs.
It's vital that school staff can take steps to reduce stress and create a culture of resilience to anxiety, particularly during exam times.
Our webinar on using therapeutic techniques will develop your ability to help pupils build the skills they need to manage their anxiety.
Positive psychology is a means of instilling the hope and optimism we need to overcome setbacks in life. It can be a powerful tool for boosting your pupils' mental health. Our guide to using positive psychology will help you get started.
What teachers need to do is to encourage pupils to pay attention to what they did well and what they got right particularly when struggling with new challenges.
In addition to meeting the immediate mental health needs of your pupils, developing their resilience will enable them to overcome setbacks and manage pressure. In our guide to creating a resilient environment for learners, you'll find advice for developing long-term resilience as well as helping pupils thrive in the short term.
For further thoughts on what schools can do to promote resilience and emotional regulation, head over to our blog.
A pupil with identified social, emotional and mental health (SEMH) needs may meet with a designated member of staff at least once per week, to discuss their overall wellbeing and any problems they are facing in or outside of school.
Keeping a record of these interactions will help you build a coherent picture of how you differentiate the day for that pupil, and what changes you could make to improve the quality of provision.
Use our interaction record template to note:
- the details of an interaction
- a summary of the discussion
- concerns to be addressed
- next steps or solutions identified
- any subsequent changes to practice you make.
Structure your communication
It is vital that you involve parents and carers in your provision for pupils' mental health. Use our template letter to keep them informed of the school's objectives, initiatives and key points of contact.
Looking to write or update your school's policy for mental health? You can also download and adapt our pupil mental health and wellbeing policy template.