Getting started - teaching and support staff

Promoting good mental health and wellbeing in schools relies on every member of staff playing their part.

Research from the NHS shows that in England, 14% of primary school children have an identifiable mental health condition. This figure rises to 17.6% of secondary school aged children, and 20% of 17 to 22-year olds.

As children and young people spend so much of their time in schools, teachers and support staff are in a prime position to help them build strong mental health and wellbeing - and notice if something is wrong.

There are lots of things that schools can do to support children and young people’s mental health and wellbeing. By strengthening their ability to cope with day-to-day difficulties – and helping them to feel good about themselves.

Schools can do this through developing children and young people’s social and emotional skills to help them understand and manage their feelings, develop empathy, establish positive relationships, set goals, build resilience and boost self-esteem and confidence.

10 tips for teaching and support staff

We know school staff are stretched for time, and that when it comes to poor mental health the needs of a child or young person can often be complex. To help get you started in promoting and supporting the mental health of the students in your school, we’ve provided 10 useful tips and pieces of advice to help you feel informed in the decisions that you make, and also guided on where to seek support if needed.

Short on time? Download a PDF of these top tips to read later – we have created one for primary schools and one for secondary schools and further education settings

1. Read our introductory pages on mental health and wellbeing

Read our pages on social and emotional skills and risks and protective factors to understand how to build the emotional foundations that children and young people need to thrive, be mentally healthy and learn successfully. This includes having resilience and self-confidence, being able to handle difficult situations and manage their own feelings; as well as being aware of the kinds of things that affect – and improve – their mental health.

2. Let pupils know you’re happy to talk about how they’re feeling

Encourage children and young people to talk about how they’re feeling and let them know that you are there to listen if they need to discuss anything. Build confident, open, healthy and trusting relationships with pupils to help them feel safe. Positive relationships with a trusted adult are an important protective factor for children and young people, helping them thrive, remain resilient and learn effectively.

Recommended resources (primary):

Recommended resources (secondary):

3. Help children and young people learn how to manage their emotions

Help children and young people understand and manage their emotions by developing their social and emotional skills.

Social and emotional skills should be integrated across the curriculum and school life. This can be during health and wellbeing education and broader curriculum lessons, assemblies, or through whole-school programmes. Check out our resource library for hundreds of free, practical resources.

Recommended resources (primary):

Recommended resources (secondary):

4. Get children and young people talking about mental health

Help children and young people understand that mental health is something that we all have, and that we should be aware of it and learn skills to look after it.

Use the resources on Mentally Healthy Schools to help generate discussions about mental health in the classroom and around school. Focus on why it’s important to listen to others and seek support if they’re struggling. If a topic triggers difficult feelings and thoughts for a student, make some time to listen to them and talk through their feelings – and link them up with any additional help they might need.

Recommended resources (primary):

Recommended resources (secondary):

5. Be alert to signs that a child or young person may be in distress

It’s important to intervene early if you think a child or young person is in distress. Look out for those pupils who may need extra support; start a conversation to see how they are. If you are concerned, speak to your designated safeguarding lead and talk about what support may be helpful – this may involve providing peer support, counselling or other school-based help.

Recommended resources (primary):

Recommended resources (secondary):

6. Feel confident about having a conversation with a pupil you’re worried about

Ideally conversations will be begun by a classroom teacher, a sensitive teaching assistant or other staff member who is well-known to pupils. Every school should make sure that anyone working or interacting with children and young people understands safeguarding procedures and has the necessary training.

Recommended resources (primary):

Recommended resources (secondary):

7. Know what to do if you’re concerned about a child or young person

Sometimes it may feel difficult to know if a child or young person has a difficulty that might need further follow up and action. If you are worried that a child or young person is at risk, involve your designated safeguarding lead as a matter of priority. They will contact the parents or carers and other services as necessary.

If the child or young person is at immediate risk, make sure they are taken to their general practitioner (GP) or accident and emergency (A&E) as a matter of urgency, depending on the severity of the concern.

Recommended resources:

8. Be patient with children and young people who are least engaged in school

Children and young people with a mental health problem are more likely to be absent from school without permission. This is especially true for children and young people with an emotional or behavioural problem.

If a pupil is struggling with being interested and engaged in school, think about more creative and interactive strategies for maintaining their interest. Help them feel that they belong, and work together with families to problem-solve solutions.

Recommended resources (primary):

Recommended resources (secondary):

9. Support children and young people who are more likely to be suspended or excluded

School exclusion is more common in children with a mental health disorder (6.8%) than those without (0.5%).

Be aware of which children or young people in your class are more at risk of being suspended or excluded from school, and screen early to explore whether they might have unmet mental health needs. Studies show that young people who are excluded from school on average score lower on measures for family support, community support, school and peer support than those not excluded.

Look at what additional support or alternative provision might be needed for those students. Repeating these screenings over time can also help you evaluate whether their mental health improves following any action you have taken. This can also be used as accompanying evidence to strengthen a referral made to local services.

Recommended resources:

10. Look after your mental health

When we have good levels of wellbeing, we feel that life is in balance and that we can generally cope well. We feel motivated and engaged, we’re resilient and able to deal effectively with daily troubles, as well as bounce back from life’s challenges.

As school staff, you’re likely be juggling a multitude of different tasks and demands. It’s important that you’re given the right emotional and practical support so that you can, in turn, best support your pupils. Good staff wellbeing can also improve performance and job satisfaction.

Recommended resources:

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