Mental health needs

This section on mental health needs focuses on those children or young people who have already become mentally unwell, or are on the threshold of being mentally unwell.

It includes information on the different conditions that might affect children and young people, the behaviours that school staff might see that could indicate a student is struggling, and the strategies that school staff can employ to support them.

These strategies include:

  • helping to build all children and young people’s resilience and/or prevent further escalation of poor mental health
  • helping students and families get the support they need
  • supporting children and young people so that they can continue to achieve and learn even when they are struggling or unwell.

What leads to poor mental health?

Any child can experience challenges to their mental health, but some children and young people are at greater risk of developing mental health difficulties than others. This will depend on a range of factors including a child’s temperament, the range and severity of challenging life events that they face, and the extent to which they learn coping skills and get support to build their resilience.

Mental health risks and needs can also escalate.  Sometimes this happens gradually – sometimes more quickly.

Identifying when a child or young person is struggling or unwell

Mental health difficulties are often not obvious in how they present and for this reason can get missed.

It is not up to school staff to take on the role of a mental health professional and make decisions about whether a student might have a diagnosable mental illness. However, school staff are very well placed to be alert to any shifts or changes in mental health. Staff will also have access to a range of information on risks that may influence children and young people’s mental health and on how a student is developing socially, emotionally and academically. All of this will help build a better picture of when a student might need additional support.

What schools and further education settings can do about mental health needs

This website is not about turning school staff into mental health experts. It aims to help you:

  • Clarify what you are seeing.
  • Be alert and respond to children and young people’s needs by taking appropriate steps.
  • Be more informed in your approach to identifying mental health/special educational needs; building it into your school’s plans for monitoring the progress and development of all pupils.
  • Use the school environment and everyday opportunities to help children and young people develop coping skills and build resilience.
  • Increase your knowledge about how to promote and support children and young people’s mental health.
  • Increase your knowledge and confidence about supporting children and young people who may be receiving specialist mental health support or waiting to access help. School staff will always have an important role in helping all students cope, flourish, recover and achieve.

All of these activities need to sit within a whole-school approach to supporting children and young people’s mental health and wellbeing.