YOUNG people in Bolton’s schools are seeing growing help to tackle mental health challenges.

But a leading teachers’ union has called for more support for educators in protecting pupils’ and their own wellbeing. BRAD MARSHAL reports.

MORE and more Bolton schools and colleges are taking the fight to stress, anxiety and other mental health challenges by signing up to a ground-breaking programme to better support children and young people’s mental health.

The Greater Manchester Mentally Healthy programme was rolled out in March 2018 and has since doubled in size from 64 to 125 participating educational establishments.

Among those are six secondary and seven primary schools in Bolton.

Warren Heppolette, executive lead for strategy and system development at Greater Manchester Health and Social Care Partnership, the body who commissioned the scheme, said: “Anxiety, depression and other mental health conditions affect young people’s learning, their happiness and their future prospects.

“We know also that schools and colleges are some of the best places to address this, provide young people with the skills, knowledge and confidence to overcome these problems and prevent problems from getting worse.

“[The programme’s] expansion means more children and young people can build the necessary skills to look after their own wellbeing and to support their peers.”

Through the scheme students and teachers are trained to become mental health champions and to date a total of 157 pupils have taken up the roles.

Young people have said that they are already seeing the benefits of the champion position with primary school children reporting high levels of confidence in the roles and secondary school champions adding that it had improved their knowledge of mental health issues.

Sharon Jardine, youth work coordinator at Zacs Youth Bar, a Farnworth youth centre which provides support for children and young people aged 8 to 18, praised the programme for working to intervene before young people reach crisis point.

She added: “Any help that schools can get to help and support young people with mental health is a million steps forward. And anything that helps a school to look at its leadership strategy and how it supports young people would be a step forward.

“Children and adult mental health services are struggling to meet demand and with young people in school seven or eight hours a day if you can be supporting them where they are it’s a brilliant thing for young people.”

Under the Mentally Healthy scheme school staff are also given “mental health first aid” training, preparing them to spot the signs and symptoms of young people struggling.

This is intended to enable quicker interventions, more easily facilitate “difficult conversations” and signpost appropriate support.

One to one support is available for the most vulnerable children and sees pupils given appointments with a trained mental health worker.

However the scheme is not just reactive but also pursues preventative solutions such as working with targeted groups to build resilience and develop coping strategies through healthy and active life styles to ward off stress and anxiety.

GMHSCP further offer support to education leaders to create whole school strategies for mental health and wellbeing.

The Mentally Healthy measures have been welcomed by The Teachers’ Union NASUWT. However the body has said that teachers and schools should not be expected to tackle the problem alone as the sector faces growing pressure from all sides.

Ms Chris Keates, acting general secretary of NASUWT, told the Bolton News: “It is positive to see that the Greater Manchester Mentally Healthy Schools and Colleges programme is expanding to support more schools, children and young people.

“Teachers have never before had to deal with such a complex range of pupil welfare issues as they do today so any support offered is to be welcomed. These challenges are compounded by cuts to school staffing and to external specialist support. It is a betrayal of staff and pupils to continue to expect schools alone to deal with all of these issues, so the Greater Manchester Health and Social Care Partnership should be commended for their work in this area.

“Going forward however, it will be important that teachers are not expected to take the place of qualified healthcare professionals.

“Whilst support for teachers to recognise the signs of mental and emotional distress in their pupils is helpful, this must not lead to teachers, already struggling to cope with excessive and unsustainable workloads, being expected to diagnose, treat and manage pupils’ mental health.

“The NASUWT looks forward to initiatives from Government and employers which also recognise the scale of the mental health issues being faced by teachers themselves due to the pressures, stress and anxiety of their job and which is contributing to too many teachers leaving the profession.”

Dr Sandeep Ranote, Greater Manchester clinical lead for children and young people’s mental health, said: “We know one in eight young people has a mental health condition but with a combination of education, awareness and timely access to the right treatment and support they can be given the opportunity to be well and achieve their full potential. This can only be provided by the whole health, care and education system working together for the young people and their families, as demonstrated by the mentally healthy schools programme.”