How to support common mental health conditions in schools

1 in 6 school-aged children develop a common mental health condition, yet at present teachers receive no training to support children’s mental health.

As part of our Headucation campaign, we’re aiming to train teachers in the basics of mental health so that they can provide early intervention to children and support the development of positive mental health.

Without sufficient training, teachers may feel unprepared to deal with common mental health conditions that children experience and that have an impact on their education. We want to help teachers to feel more confident and prepared. Here are some common mental health conditions you may see in children and some initial steps you can take to support them.

Anxiety in schools

Anxiety is incredibly common in children and may be more common in particular situations such as public speaking, demonstrations and socialising. Some children may experience anxiety so severe or frequent that it disrupts their daily lives.

Signs of anxiety in school

Some common signs of anxiety in children can include poor performance, irritability and even physical manifestations like stomach aches. Find out more about the signs of anxiety in children.

How to support anxiety in school

  1. Help children face their fears by helping them identify what is making them anxious and help them to develop strategies for coping
  2. Ask questions about previous experiences to help them uncover triggers and emotions linked to the anxiety-inducing situation
  3. Celebrate small wins with pupils when they take a step towards facing their anxiety
  4. Talk openly about anxiety with all children to reduce stigma and encourage them to seek help

ADHD in schools

ADHD describes children who demonstrate overactive and impulsive behaviours as well as difficulties concentrating and paying attention. It is thought that 2-5% of children have ADHD in the UK. Without proper support, ADHD can make it difficult for children to achieve high grades, build relationships and develop high self-esteem.

Signs of ADHD in school

Common signs of ADHD in school children include forgetfulness, difficulty focusing on and completing tasks, fidgeting and interrupting.

How to support ADHD in school

  1. Find opportunities for children to walk around the classroom during lessons, e.g. games, writing things on the whiteboard or regular breaks
  2. Give children more time to process information before responding by outlining the lesson prior to starting
  3. Break work into smaller chunks so that there is less to focus on at once
  4. Use special phrases that grab attention and stimulate interest, e.g. “wait for it”, “here we go”, or “the next part is really interesting”
  5. Develop your knowledge and understanding of ADHD with courses and training

Eating Disorders in schools

Eating disorders can affect anyone regardless of age, gender, ethnicity or background – despite the stereotypes that exist in the media. Eating disorders are often associated with severely limiting one’s food intake or purging after eating through laxatives or inducing vomiting – however it can also include eating extreme quantities of food at once, excessive fasting, excessive exercise in response to food intake or any combination of these behaviours.

Most eating disorders start in childhood or adolescence, so schools can play a crucial part in spotting the signs and providing early intervention.

Signs of eating disorders in schools

Children and young people with eating disorders may skip meals, avoid eating around others, disappear after mealtimes and even display physical symptoms of malnutrition including thinning hair and dry skin.

How to support eating disorders in schools

  1. Educate yourself about eating disorders to better understand the signs, symptoms and help available. (Why not take a look at our online course on eating disorders?)
  2. Talk openly about eating disorders to reduce stigma and encourage children to seek help
  3. Share tools and resources that children can use to access support when they need it. Beat is an incredible eating disorder charity with great support for young people.
  4. Discuss any concerns you have with your school’s safeguarding lead as well as the child’s parent/carer

Insecure attachment in schools

Attachment is a complex psychological theory around the bonds formed between children and their primary caregiver(s). Insecure attachments are formed when a child has a negative or poor bond with their caregiver that is often a result of the home environment being a source of fear rather than safety. Insecure attachments in school children can lead to disruptive behaviour and difficulty forming relationships in later life.

Signs of insecure attachment

Many children with insecure attachments do not feel safe around other people and as such may refuse to ask for help, avoid social situations and elicit inappropriate responses to emotional situations (e.g. laughing when someone is in pain).

How to support insecure attachment in schools

  1. Build positive relationships with the child that help them feel safe, enabling you to work on any behavioural issues they display
  2. Engage with other adults in their life to understand what is causing the child to feel this way
  3. Discuss the attachment issues with a professional or undertake training in attachment theory

Depression and low mood in school

It is normal for a child (or adult) to not feel 100% happy all the time and to experience times when they feel irritable with little pleasure of motivation. However, if someone feels this way consistently for longer than two weeks, they may be suffering with depression or low mood.

Signs of depression in school

Depression can be caused by many factors including bullying and exam stress – common signs of depression in children include irritability, not wanting to attend school and losing interest in things they once enjoyed.

How to support depression in schools

  1. Educate yourself so that you can fully understand how children with depression may feel and act
  2. Signpost to professional resources that can help children understand their own mental health
  3. Express an interest in how they are feeling so that they know they can talk to you (or another member of staff they may feel more comfortable with)
  4. Share any concerns with other wellbeing leaders within the school who can take the appropriate next steps

Take a look at our online self-led course Understanding Depression or get in touch to discuss mental health training for teachers through #Headucation.

Teachers and schools play a vital role in the support of mental health conditions in children but they need more help to do it effectively. Help us raise money for Headucation so we can provide fully-funded mental health training to schools that will enable their teachers to act as first responders and support children in the early stages of mental health conditions.

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