More mental health support for schools
By Gemma Raw
The roll-out of education Mental Health Support Teams has been accelerated to help deal with the challenges caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.
In 2017, the Government committed to providing additional mental health support for schools by establishing a network of Mental Health Support Teams (MHSTs). Now NHS England has announced a significant ramping up of the initiative, with around 400 MHSTs to offer support to almost three million pupils by 2023.
Comprising clinical psychologists, mental health therapists and newly created Education Mental Health Practitioner roles, MHSTs are there to provide early intervention and offer expert support on issues such as low self-esteem, anxiety, depression and eating disorders, as well as helping education staff identify and deal with mental health problems amongst their pupils. A welcome addition to the mental health workforce, Education Mental Health Practitioners are trained to deliver evidence-based psychological interventions in or close to educational settings.
A major challenge
Even before the Coronavirus pandemic, mental health professionals were aware that children and young people are being significantly affected by emotional and behavioural disorders. In 2017 the first major survey of children's mental health for 13 years found that one in eight five to 19-year-olds in England had at least one mental disorder. The rate of emotional disorders in five to 15-year-olds had increased from 3.9% in 2004 to 5.8% in 2017.
According to more recent studies, the number of five to 16-year-olds in England experiencing mental health problems rose to one in six last summer, following the first wave of the pandemic and the resulting lockdown. More than one in four children has had trouble sleeping and one in 10 has often or always felt lonely during the pandemic.
Commenting on the expanded roll-out of the MHSTs, Claire Murdoch, Mental Health Director for NHS England, said, "Children have had their normal routines turned upside down during the pandemic, whether it be curbs on their social life, school or their hobbies, and so it is only right that the NHS accelerates its mental health support for young people."
On 10 May, Education Secretary Gavin Williamson announced an extra £17 million in mental health funding for schools and colleges to help them recover from the challenges of the pandemic. The Department for Education will also fund an adapted 'Link' programme, designed to improve partnerships between health and education leaders in local areas, raise awareness of mental health concerns and improve referrals to specialist mental health professionals, such as psychologists and therapists.
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