Schools across the nation are being called to take up a training opportunity that equips staff with the vital skills they need to support vulnerable pupils.
Mental Health First Aid (MHFA) is a national campaign that aims to reduce the stigma surrounding mental health, increase awareness, and improve the support network in work, education and living environments.
With an aim to provide 10% of the population with essential mental health first aid skills, MHFA is offering schools across the nation the chance to sign up for one free training place on its one-day course.
Abi Grocutt, safeguarding officer at Shirebrook Academy in Derbyshire, found out about the course and volunteered the Academy to be a host school to secure an extra place.
She said: “We all found it really quite empowering. I feel as though I have good knowledge of mental health, especially when it comes to young people, but it was very surprising. It was really informative.
“One of the facts that stuck in my mind was the most common causes for young people to commit suicide. The first was bullying, the second was acne, and the third was bereavement.”
In addition to ensuring staff are more aware and better equipped to deal with any potential issues, Abi is also determined to get the pupils on board to increase peer understanding and provide an extra level of support.
She said: “We did the training but we didn’t want it to be just staff. I think it’s really important that young people are involved as well and can take ownership. Plus, young people listen more to other young people.
“We put a message out to all year groups to see if they wanted to be mental health champions. We’ve got about 10 or 11 now, and we’re planning for World Mental Health Day at the moment.”
Shirebrook Academy is committed to providing top quality support for students at the point of need, and is encouraged to see a real improvement in communication.
Abi explained: “We’ve always been vigilant about mental health, but at first that mainly came from staff, but now more and more things are coming from the young person, so that shows we’re doing something right. As we carry out more of this training we expect to see an increase in this. It’s just the tip of the iceburg.”
From bullying to self-esteem and fears about social media, young people today are facing a whole host of issues that can cause stress and anxiety.
Abi said: “There are just so many pressures on young people now. Changes keep happening that can have a big effect. Exams have changed.
“Social media is probably the biggest issue facing young people today. Not just in terms of bullying, but self-esteem and body image is a big problem too.
“Another key issue is exam stress. We have a massive flair up in May and June, which suggests that it is related to exam stress.”
By monitoring key causes and concerns, schools can anticipate situations that could negatively impact young people’s mental health, and provide the right support to help students recover.
By encouraging students to get involved by talking about mental health on the back of the MHFA training programme, staff have seen a real improvement in pupils’ attitude towards mental health and wellbeing, and are urging more schools to act now.
Abi said: “My advice is get involved with talking about mental health. If staff show they are open to talking about mental health you will create an attitude that says it’s good to talk. Lead the way to show how to deal with mental health.
“Everyone has mental health - whether that’s good or bad. It’s just the same as physical health.
“Make sure you get students involved. It has been really good for us.