New research by the Mental Health Foundation Scotland has revealed that teachers lack the training and confidence to help them address mental health concerns with their pupils.
Teachers also expressed concern that the health and wellbeing pillar of Curriculum for Excellence is not taught with the same commitment as reading and writing yet 86% believe it's just as important.
71% of teachers told the charity that they lack the right training to help them address mental health concerns with pupils and only 13% have received mental health first aid training.
Meanwhile, there has been a 20% rise in the number of children and young people being referred to specialist child and adolescent mental health services (CAMHS) since 2015. It is estimated that 10% of children and young people have a clinically diagnosable mental health problem and 20% of teenagers may experience a mental health problem in any given year.
51% of teachers also revealed that the pressures of their job has led them to develop a mental health problem (such as depression or anxiety) or exacerbated an existing problem. 85% believe that mental health training would help them look after their own emotional wellbeing as well as that of their pupils.
The Foundation has called for mental health training to be embedded in the teacher training curriculum (Initial Teacher Education) at the outset of teaching careers – a proposal backed by 92% of teachers.
Data published by the Scottish government shows that some universities provide as little as 15 hours of health and wellbeing training over the course of their four-year teacher training courses.
This raises serious questions about the level of knowledge that teachers gain in areas like child brain development, nurture, emotional resilience and self-care, which are fundamental to preventing mental health problems from developing in the first place.
The charity has also called for existing school staff to receive mental health training as part of their continued professional development (CPD), a proposal backed by 93% of teaching staff.
The Foundation's survey also found:
Over a quarter (26%) of teachers say that they’re unable to access prompt support and guidance if they are concerned about a pupil’s mental wellbeing.
Only a third (33%) of teachers think that health and wellbeing is taught with the same commitment as reading and writing in their school despite it being a key plank of Curriculum for Excellence.
Around a quarter (24%) of schools don't have any mental health support worker in place (either full time or visiting).
Three quarters of teachers (75%) think that wellbeing levels should be routinely measured, for example, through questionnaires, to identify problems early.
73% of teachers think that mental health should feature in school inspection reports.
The Mental Health Foundation Scotland said:
"It's remarkable that despite the growing number of children struggling to cope, mental health is still not a core part of the teacher training curriculum. Understanding child brain development, emotional vocabulary, self-esteem, self-care and managing stress are not extra-curricular – they should be core to what teachers learn from day one and throughout their careers to help them perform their job.
"Our research also shows that around half of teachers have struggled with their own mental health due to the pressures of their job. It’s clear that investing in training will not only benefit pupils but will help teachers look after their own emotional health.
"Stress in adults can often leak into young minds, which is why addressing teacher mental health is equally important. We need a 'whole-school approach' where pupils and staff can support one another to thrive.
"Young people are under enormous pressures to succeed but schools can’t be driven by exam results alone – young people's social and emotional development is just as important. We need mental health support workers present in every school, quality PSE lessons that explore the root causes of emotional distress, and classrooms that measure levels of wellbeing to pick up problems early.
"Unless we put more emphasis on nurturing emotionally literate, resilient children we'll continue to see more of them in crisis and distress."
Frances Beck, a trained teacher from Ayrshire, who lost her son to suicide, said:
"The vast majority of my colleagues are very supportive of health and wellbeing, but a lack of specific training is problematic in designing and delivering lessons.
"It's really important that all teachers are effectively trained in mental health and are able to provide regular, quality mental health and wellbeing education.
"It's also important for schools to involve children and young people in leading their peers in mental health programmes to encourage them to support each other and help break down the stigma surrounding mental health.
"Schools should also embed a system of regularly measuring the levels of wellbeing of the whole school community in order to identify problems at an early stage and be proactive in targeting appropriate support.
"That support should be provided by mental health support workers who work within each school community, which will enable children and young people to receive the support they need, when they need it, and in an environment that they trust."
The qualitative research consisted of a survey and two focus groups involving teachers across all 32 of Scotland’s local authorities.
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