Last year I wrote the below article. As our children go back to school this question is even more relevant. What plans do schools have to help children going back to school after this huge disruption to their lives? Are there adequate resources, support, and understanding?
The elephant in the room - what do we do with students with mental health difficulties?
I want to start my saying that my mother was school teacher, and I grew up with a lot of respect for the good teachers, the ones who worked hard to understand and then educate their students.
And I still believe that the vast majority of teachers have the best intentions, and just like our students, they do well if they can.
Over the last 10 years as an independent child and adolescent psychologist I have witnessed school and teachers who do not know what to do when a student has acute and/or chronic mental health difficulties. When we look at understanding why a child is not learning well in the classroom it is not enough to look at cognitive abilities the emotional wellbeing of a student must be taken into account. In our school system there are both systemic gaps, knowledge gaps and understanding gaps.
The World Health Organisation states that half of all mental health conditions start by 14 years of age and “most cases are undetected and untreated”. And “globally, depression is one of the leading causes of illness and disability among adolescents” https://www.who.int/news-room/fact-sheets/detail/adolescent-mental-health.
About 10-20% of adolescents experience mental health problems. In a classroom of 30 children that means 3-6 on average. In a school of 1200 that is 240 students. This is not an elephant that should be ignored and dealt with on an ad hoc basis.
We may be increasing the number of counsellors and psychologists in schools, but is that helping? How far is it going? Do schools think that because a student has an appointment a session a week or a fortnight, or is seeing an outside psychologist that that is enough.
I am asking these questions to school leaders, parents, teachers, mental health professionals. These are aimed at encouraging conversation. Possible answers and/or best practices to some of these topics will be addressed in future articles. For now consider the following.
Knowledge and Understanding
These and many other questions need to be answered.
Let’s carry on the conversation. Whether you are a principal, a teacher, a parent or a school psychologist/counsellor/welfare worker – what is your school doing? Let’s share, what is working, what isn’t, where are the gaps in understanding, knowledge and systems.
* My aim is for these posts is meant to useful, interesting and/or inspiring. They are not designed to be used for therapy.. If you are experiencing stress please contact your GP or mental health professional.
Kim Dunn is a Child Psychologist and Founder of Positive Young Minds.