More than a million children and young people will have access to mental health support at school, as the NHS rapidly expands services to help deal with the disruption caused by coronavirus and lockdown.
Teams of experts will be offering support to children experiencing anxiety, depression, and other common mental health issues.
Around 400 mental health support teams will be up and running covering 3,000 schools in England, offering support to almost three million pupils, by 2023.
Experts hope that by intervening early they can prevent problems escalating into serious mental health issues, with health chiefs warning that the isolation and upheaval of the pandemic can be compounded by factors like pressure experienced on social media platforms.
Referrals to the teams can be made by teachers or GPs as well as in cases like Gloucestershire by the young person themselves via the texting service they have established.
Coronavirus, and the actions necessary to slow its spread, have caused major disruption to children’s school and home lives over the past year.
Mental health problems among five to 16-year-olds in England have risen from one in 10 in 2017 to around one in six last summer.
More than one in four children has had trouble sleeping while one in 10 often or always felt lonely during the pandemic, according to one recent study.
Experts in the teams will offer children one-to-one and group therapy sessions while helping to improve the whole school’s communities awareness of mental health through training sessions for parents and workshops for teachers.
There are now over 280 mental health support teams set up or in training. 183 teams are operational and ready to support children and young people in around 3,000 schools and colleges, covering 15% of pupils in England.
A further 103 teams are in development with more to be commissioned this year, which will deliver the NHS Long Term Plan commitment to reach 20 – 25% of pupils a year early (2022). 35% of pupils in England are expected to be have access to a mental health support team by 2023.
The first 59 teams began work last March but had to swiftly adapt to provide help during lockdown.
Children in Gloucestershire have been able to text their local mental health support team, with a health professional responding within an hour during the school day offering them advice.
Teams extended support to parents and carers confronted with homeschooling as well as remote working, furlough or redundancy, in Essex using an online ‘befriending service’. Parents were offered one-to-one therapy sessions, online parenting courses and given a buddy so they could have a support network to share advice with.
In Kent, teams have provided 20-minute telephone counselling sessions for parents struggling with the competing demands of life under lockdown alongside virtual drop-in sessions for school staff on how to support children with their mental health.
Teams in Nottingham have been offering parents and teachers at more than 100 schools’ advice on how to spot that the children and young people are struggling with their mental health.
Those with issues are then offered tips on how to cope including workshops on how to sleep better. The teams also run wellbeing sessions for teachers.
One of those offering advice is Rebecca Webster, an NHS therapist working in the Nottinghamshire Mental Health Support Team, who quickly adapted services during lockdown:
‘Having just finished our training, we had to set up a whole new team while facing an ever-changing environment.
‘But our flexibility and adaptability have allowed us to reach out to more people than expected in our first year of working, thanks to online workshops attended by hundreds of young people, parents and teachers.’
Minister for mental health and suicide prevention, Nadine Dorries said: ‘This has been an exceptionally difficult year and children and young people have been particularly impacted by disruption to their routine, education and social lives.
‘Mental Health Support teams provide fantastic support not just for our children and young people, but also parents and teachers, which is vital for creating an environment that truly promotes positive mental wellbeing.
‘I remain committed to doing all I can to ensure mental health support is there for those who need it.’
Photo Credit – Pixabay