What schools and further education settings can do

While persistent low mood and depression are more common in secondary-aged students, there are lots of things schools and settings can do at all ages.

If you are at all concerned about a child or young person, you should always speak to your designated safeguarding lead as a matter of priority. They will be able to advise on suitable next steps, and speaking to them about any concerns should always be the first action you take, ahead of any of the suggestions on this page.

Although the suggestions on this page are broadly split into primary and secondary age groups, the majority of the advice can be applicable for all ages. All children and young people are different, and it’s important to understand the needs of the individual child and young person when looking for ways to support their mental health and wellbeing.

What primary schools can do

Explore emotions through lessons and programmes

Thoughts can really influence and affect our moods. However, many children may not be aware when this is happening to them. Through effective teaching of RSHE, schools can help children learn about their emotions and learn strategies for regulating them. A number of universal and targeted school-based programmes can also prevent children being overwhelmed by low mood and supports them to learn effective coping skills to manage life’s ups and downs.

Build positive relationships with pupils

Positive relationships in the classroom/school that are built on trust, safety and security promote pupil wellbeing and help children affected by sad or low mood – encouraging them to open up and talk. Consider trying to engage children in after-school activities or clubs that they may show an interest in.

Involve your pastoral team

Some children will also need a little extra help either through school pastoral/counselling support, through discussion with your school nurse or through referral to community-based support. Depression, if persistent and unsupported, can lead to more severe symptoms such as suicidal thoughts and should always be taken seriously.

What secondary schools and further education settings can do

Normalise the discussion of emotions

One important way that secondary schools and further education settings can support students who may be experiencing depression is to normalise the regular discussion of feelings and emotions. This could be through regular wellbeing-themed assemblies, the teaching of RSHE, regular check-ins or tutor or form group discussions. This means that if young people do start to feel low or depressed, they may be more comfortable opening up.

Don’t deal with it alone

If you are worried about a student, always follow your safeguarding procedures as a matter of priority – don’t deal with it alone. When you have done that, and come up with a plan with your pastoral team, one of the things you may consider implementing is regular check-ins with the student, with an adult in the school that they trust.

Speak to students about how they are feeling

When you are speaking to a student about how they are doing, it’s important to ensure they don’t feel judged. Take what they’re saying seriously and express your concerns, but don’t over-react, and don’t try to minimise or dismiss what they are saying.

Signpost the different avenues of support available

It’s also important that young people are aware of the different support that is available for them in school. Highlight the support they can access regularly, through clear signposting – share information in hallways or classroom displays, or regularly reference support pathways in assemblies or other group activities.

Concerned about a child or young person?

If you are worried that a child is at risk involve your designated safeguarding lead as a matter of priority who will contact the parents/carers and other services as necessary. If the child is at immediate risk, ensure that they are taken to their GP or A&E as a matter of urgency, depending on the severity of the concern.

Related resources

Filter by:

Childline: depression and feeling sad

Primary

Childline has a range of practical resources for children and young people to help them manage...

View resource
Anxiety and depression lesson plan
Secondary

Anxiety and depression lesson plan

This lesson plan explores the topic of anxiety and depression and the impact that our physical...

View resource
A parent’s guide to depression
Primary

A parent’s guide to depression

Help parents to recognise the warning signs of depression and talk to children about their feelings.

View resource
MindEd: sad, bored or isolated
Secondary

MindEd: sad, bored or isolated

This training session will help staff recognise the difference between clinical depression and...

View resource