school mental healthSchools should be able to teach children and young people about mental health in the same way they are taught about literacy or numeracy, a report has recommended.

The joint report, ‘What really matters in children and young people’s mental health’, published by the Values-Based Child and Adolescent Mental Health System Commission, puts the role of schools at the heart of improving mental health services for children and young people. The Commission comprises the Royal College of Psychiatrists, YoungMinds and Children & Young People’s Mental Health Coalition.

The report, led by Baroness Claire Tyler of Enfield, calls for fundamental changes to be made to how child and adolescent mental health services (CAMHS) are delivered. It makes 10 recommendations, including calling on governments to formally recognise schools as a crucial component of the child and adolescent mental health system in the following ways:

Undertake mental health impact assessments to ensure that schools/education policy and wider government policy and legislation are not detrimental to children and young people’s mental health

Ensure that schools are able to identify mental health issues and can easily signpost pupils to relevant support, either within the school or local community, and have the accountability to do this.

Baroness Tyler said: “The report drives home the need for high quality, system-wide leadership from all those involved in delivering mental health services, which takes full account of what really matters to all concerned, particularly the children and young people themselves. 

“This report provides a crucial missing piece of the jigsaw which bridges the gap between what we already know about children’s mental health and the challenges of making the fundamental changes that are needed in order to improve the mental health and wellbeing of children and young people.”

The Commission found schools and the wider education sector play a key role in the child and adolescent mental health system but they often feel disconnected from other parts of the system and need more support. 

However, the report also identified a number of examples where there are well-established, integrated links between a school and mental health services in the community. 

Dr Peter Hindley, chair of the CAMHS faculty at the Royal College of Psychiatrists, said: “Children and young people spend nearly a third of their time in school, so teachers are instrumental in supporting their mental health. With the right support from service providers and the right training schools can become an important single point of access for referral through to providing access to the full range of services. 

“We can clearly see the positive impact where there is genuine integration of mental health services within schools has changed the culture and attitude towards mental health but in order for it to be truly effective, we need to see similar initiatives across the UK.”