Mental health services for schools in Scotland

Understanding and mapping your local service landscape is an important factor in planning and improving children and young people’s access to support.

The Curriculum for Excellence has Health and Wellbeing as one of its eight topics for schools to teach, and many schools will already be running wider cross-curricular or whole-school activity to support the wellbeing of their pupils.

The Scottish government's approach to children and young people's mental health and wellbeing is called Getting It Right For Every Child (GIRFEC). GIRFEC emphasises joined-up working between children and young people, their families, and the services they access. There are a range of services and interventions available in the community, which schools can use for information, advice, support or referral. 

Support available for schools

  • In-school counsellors: The commitment to invest in access to school counselling services across education in Scotland was announced in the 2018 and 2019 Programme for Government (PfG). The commitment will ensure that every secondary school has access to counselling services, whilst also improving the ability of local primary and special schools to access counselling. If you are a primary school wanting to commission counselling, your local authority may have a contract with a particular counselling service, so you may want to reach out to them first.
  • Training for staff: The Scottish Association for Mental Health (SAMH) have a free e-learning modulefor teachers, but there are many different paid training programmes available too. NHS Education for Scotland has a list of training for schools, while organisations like the Anna Freud Centre have different online training courses suitable for schools across the UK, and Place2Be’s Mental Health Champions: School Leaders training has been endorsed by Education Scotland.
  • ASN support:Schools may choose to spend the PEF on additional support for ASN children or young people, for example hiring an ASN classroom assistant.

Using the PEF to commission a mental health intervention

If your school wants to use the PEF to commission a mental health service in the school, you should:

  • Make sure it is evidenced-based, safe and effective, and delivered by qualified and experienced professionals.

Broader community services

As part of GIRFEC, schools should have close links with broader community services, which they can help steer pupils and families to.

A knowledge of what is available in your local area is key.


Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services, or CAMHS, are the NHS-run services that assess and treat children with mental health issues. CAMHS is available across the UK, and can work with schools to accept referrals. However, it’s important for schools to look at services outside CAMHS too, as they will only accept children with more severe or complex mental health issues. 1 in 5 children or young people in Scotland have their referral for treatment turned down.

If a child or young person is deemed unsuitable for specialist CAMHS it is best practice for the CAMHS team to make suggestions about who else might be able to help. This may be a useful route for finding local support options.

Find out more about CAMHS.

Other services and how to find them

Outside of CAMHS, the support available for children and young people’s mental health varies by local authority in Scotland.  It is therefore difficult to provide clear and prescriptive advice on what range of services schools might expect to find, but there are some avenues schools can explore.

  • Directories of services: Your local authority should have a directory of services supporting children and young people’s mental health and wellbeing. If you can’t find one, Scotland’s Service Directoryalso features thousands of health and wellbeing services in Scotland, filterable by your local area. ALISS is a similar website which uses your postcode to find your local support services.
  • Find your local point of access: Is there a local central gateway through which you refer all students if you have mental health concerns? These arrangements can help schools understand and build up knowledge on who locally might support different levels of need.
  • Education Scotland’s resource library: Find suggested classroom resources, training courses for staff and different educational approaches to mental health in this resource hub.
  • This website: Includes a range of resourcesto help school staff, pupils and families get the help they need.
  • AyeFeel: An online resourcefor children and young people with information and support about looking after their own mental health.
  • Helplines: Do you know about national helplines and self-help tools(e.g. Childline, YoungMinds’ parent helpline, SHOUT text helpline) for children and for their families? These are not long-term solutions for children’s and families’ needs but can offer advice, self-management strategies and help children while they are waiting to access local support.

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