disabledholidaysMental health experts have called for the government to make Mental Health First Aid (MHFA) mandatory in all primary and secondary schools.

This call came as MHFA England launched its new programme to more than 100 teachers last week [21 October]. Speaking at the ‘Towards a Talking School’ launch event, MHFA England CEO and non-executive director of Public Health England, Poppy Jaman, said: "When a child presents with symptoms of physical illness or disease we don’t ignore them – we act quickly and appropriately. Why should it be any different for mental ill health? In the same way that every school and college will have one or more physical first aider, there should be trained Mental Health First Aiders too."

She pointed to statistics showing that, the US government invested $15 million (£9.3 million) towards the cost of training front line staff in MHFA this year, including teachers and youth workers. Jaman called for the UK to follow suit because "by ignoring the early stages of mental ill health in children we are sitting on a ticking time bomb of distress and potential loss of life.”

MHFA is the mental health equivalent of physical First Aid training and provides participants with the skills and confidence to recognise the signs and symptoms of common mental health issues and effectively guide a person towards the right support services. To date more than 77,000 people in the UK are MHFA-trained.

Fergus Crow, director of partnerships for the National Children's Bureau, added: "We support the call to introduce mandatory mental health awareness training for schools. We know that early identification is crucial if children are to get the support they need to flourish, and mental health awareness training is one of the key steps to creating supportive and responsive environments in which to learn."

This follows the Deputy Prime Minister’s pledge to cut waiting times for mental health services and bring them in line other NHS standards. This is part of the government’s ‘No Health Without Mental Health’ five-year plan to create parity of esteem for mental and physical healthcare services.

With 75% of all adult mental health problems starting before the age of 18, Jaman was joined by fellow speakers including Imogen Smith from Anorexia & Bulimia Care and founder of Men Get Eating Disorders Too, Sam Thomas, in stressing the need for teachers and people working with young people, to be trained to spot the early signs and symptoms in children.

Kevin Collins, Second Master at Bradfield College, where the event was held, says education professionals should also be aware of these issues.

"The challenges facing young people are complex and varied: family relationships, social pressures from peers and media as well as fears over the future – all these combine to make the world in which our young are growing up a confusing and, at times, an alienating place," he said.

"At Bradfield we intend for all our staff to have access to the course and for it to be mandatory for any staff in major pastoral roles. With almost half our staff through the course to date, we are already seeing significant improvements into the care and support we can offer our students."

For further information about Youth MHFA visit www.mhfaengland.org