Society “needs to be responding and evolving in line” with the mental health pressures young people face, Education Secretary Damian Hinds has said.
Mr Hinds has announced £9.3m for an early intervention programme to help teachers work more closely with the NHS, acknowledging the increasing strain on the health service.
“Demand on mental health services has been rising.
“It has been rising for quite some time, and in a way that’s a good thing because people with mental health conditions who a generation ago just got ignored, those people are now able to get help. But it does mean we need to be responding and evolving in line.”
The purpose of the Mental Health Link Programme is to bridge the gap between schools, colleges and NHS services.
One senior mental health lead in every school will be trained to make sure that teachers can spot signs of anxiety and depression. They will also liaise with local NHS professionals when specialist help is needed.
Mt Hinds insists the programme will not put more pressure on teachers.
“We can’t just load extra responsibilities onto them, they do a huge amount already.
“What this is about is finding out about the support services that are out there and making contact with other parts of the mental health system that can help – there’s no pretence about teachers having to become clinical experts – but just to know enough about where to refer on to when help’s needed.”
Every primary school, secondary school and college will be offered training through a series of workshops. Starting in September, the training will be rolled out in phases over four years. The four-year scheme will be run by the Anna Freud National Centre for Children and Families.
Director of the Mental Health and Wellbeing Programme Jaime Smith said: “Teachers are on the frontline, they’re already always looking out for the welfare of their children and young people but we want to make sure they know who they can refer to and how to get that specialist input really quickly.
“We’re all a lot more conscious these days about mental health, it’s very much on people’s minds… we know that by addressing these problems early on, sometimes when it’s a relatively small problem, it’s possible to stop it becoming a larger problem.”
According to a report by the children’s commissioner, in the past year more than £250m was spent by the NHS and local councils on children’s mental health. Although spending has gone up, it found that there can be a “postcode lottery” of provision.
One in nine children between five and 15 have a diagnosable mental health condition and, according to the charity Young Minds, three quarters of young people who want mental health support say it actually gets worse before they get any help.
Its director of campaigns Nick Harrop said: “Right now, only about a third of young people with a diagnosable mental health problem can access NHS support.
“Now, the government is investing extra money in mental services but we know that demand is growing as well, so we need to make sure that early intervention and prevention are a priority.”