The Designated Mental Health Lead role is new, following on from the recent green paper on children’s mental health (Future in Mind, DFE, DoH, 2015). Schools have a massive role as ‘first responders’ in prevention, identification, early support and working with external agencies to help children access the right support at the right time - so the role can feel overwhelming! Here are Learning & Wellbeing Psychology’s 3 top tips for being a successful Designated Mental Health Lead.
1) Everything is controversial in Mental Health!
It’s OK to be unsure - inform yourself of the many debates and differences of opinion. If professionals and researchers have very different ideas, then Mental Health Leads are going to feel confused! As a society, we struggle to make sense of the difficulties and experiences that we have as humans. The media gives us the message that strong emotions of fear or sadness, unusual beliefs, or sensing things that other people don’t are caused by genes or chemical imbalances in the brain. However, this evidence is hotly debated and many people disagree with these ideas! Furthermore, children tell us they don’t want their difficulties in growing up to be medicalised.
2) Think strategically
Recruit external agencies to help you learn what is working for your school community and what you need more help with. The Mental Health Lead role may seem overwhelming, but there will be examples of excellent practice in your setting already. Get help from external agencies to help you audit your school’s provision (e.g. your Educational Psychology Service). They can guide you through the process of data collection and analysis, helping you to collate information from parents, pupils and staff so you know what is already working and what areas your school might want to focus on in the future. Once you have all the data, work with other agencies to develop an action plan towards a whole school approach to mental health so that you can focus the available resources on the right training and support for your setting. Remember to use the audit to plan strategically for curriculum development, considering whether you are using evidence-based packages for your PSHE and for your school support level provision. Some formal audit tools - such as the Sandwell Chartermark – also offer formal accreditation so you can communicate your commitment to mental health and wellbeing to everyone in your community.
3) Focus on connecting emotionally with others
Provide specialist, skilled support and supervision for school leaders and pastoral staff from outside agencies (such as your Educational Psychology Service). Remember, every interaction that members of staff have in school is a mental health intervention. Education staff often report that they are worried about talking about strong or troubling feelings. We have found that with the right support, school staff learn how to remain open and ready to hear what pupils are saying, how to accept difficult feelings without trying to shut them down, how to be curious about what students mean and how to connect to the feelings behind what they say or do with their hearts not just their heads. When the people nearest the child listen in this way, they are already intervening in a powerful way.
Learning & Wellbeing Psychology are hosting an event introducing the role of the Mental Health Lead on 24th April 2020 at The Ridgeway Centre, Milton Keynes. Information and booking is available here.