The mental health and well-being of children and young people are critical to their overall development. British school counsellors have an essential role to play in suicide prevention, and it is vital to equip these professionals with practical advice and best practices to support students in need.
This article will explore fundamental strategies school counsellors can adopt, relevant UK legislation, and statistics on the mental health of children and young people within the United Kingdom.
UK Statistics on Children and Young People's Mental Health
Based on the latest available statistics from the UK:
It's clear that the state of children and young people's mental health in the UK presents significant concerns, underlying the importance of strategic implementation and the adoption of effective prevention measures.
Suicide Prevention Strategies for School Counsellors
1. Promote a safe and supportive environment
Creating a safe and supportive environment is essential in encouraging students to open up about their feelings and experiences. This includes fostering an atmosphere of trust and understanding, with open communication channels between staff and students.
2. Develop a school-wide mental health policy
Establishing a comprehensive mental health policy within your school is essential in identifying the risk factors of suicide and providing supportive measures. This policy should include training for staff in identifying early warning signs, appointing a dedicated mental health lead, and a clear action plan for dealing with potentially suicidal students.
3. Invest in mental health training for staff
Properly trained staff members are critical to effectively identify and aid students struggling with suicide ideation. Providing ongoing training in mental health and suicide prevention allows staff to identify young people at risk and intervene when necessary.
4. Encourage peer support networks
Creating student-led support groups and peer mentoring programmes can foster a sense of community and facilitate the sharing of valuable coping mechanisms. Students experiencing peer support may feel more comfortable discussing their struggles and seeking help.
5. Engage parents and caregivers
Establishing communication with parents and caregivers helps create a safety net around at-risk students. Encourage dialogue about mental health and provide guidance that enables parents to detect warning signs and notify relevant professionals.
6. Implement risk assessment and crisis intervention protocols
Having clear risk assessment procedures and intervention protocols is crucial for identifying and responding to students in crisis. These protocols should be regularly reviewed and updated to improve effectiveness.
Equipping school counsellors with the necessary tools and practices will help in identifying at-risk students and providing timely, effective support to prevent suicide. With the collaboration of schools, parents, and mental health professionals, we can create nurturing environments for young people and combat the growing issue of suicide among our youth.
What Has The UK Government Said They Are Doing To Help?
In response to increasing concerns about the mental health of children and young people, the UK government has taken significant actions outlined in the new UK Suicide Prevention Strategy 2023 to improve mental health support.
Firstly, the government has extended funding toward programmes that support young people's mental health. A notable example is Bloom, developed to equip 14-18 year olds with the necessary tools and knowledge to maintain their mental health throughout life's transitions[1%5E].
In light of the COVID-19 pandemic's effect on mental health, the government has also made funding available to address mental health issues in children and young people. This includes a focus on support for those aged 5-24, their families, and carers[4%5E].
Among the new initiatives introduced, the UK government has invested significantly in online support services. With a £500,000 investment, thousands of children and young people can access online advice services to cope with issues such as depression and anxiety[5%5E].
These initiatives demonstrate the UK government's commitment to alleviating the mental health concerns of young individuals and provide pivotal support to children and young people in crisis.
UK Legislation Relevant to Mental Health in Schools
The Children and Young People's Mental Health Green Paper (2017) – Outlines the government's proposals for mental health support in schools.
The Children and Families Act (2014) - Requires schools to make arrangements to support pupils with medical conditions, including mental health challenges.
UK Charities and Organisations Supporting Children and Young People's Mental Health
YoungMinds - Provides vital support and advice on mental health issues and suicide prevention for young people, parents, and professionals.
Childline - Offers confidential support and counselling services for children and young people via phone, email, or online chat.
PAPYRUS - Prevention of Young Suicide - A national charity that seeks to prevent young suicide by running helpline services, providing resources, and supporting schools and communities.
The Samaritans - A 24/7 helpline that provides confidential emotional support to anyone feeling distressed, overwhelmed, or suicidal.
The Mix - A support service for under 25s offering phone, email, or webchat counselling and advice on a wide range of mental health issues, including suicide prevention.
Advice for Parents
If a parent suspects their child is suffering from mental health issues or suicidal ideation, it can be an incredibly challenging and stressful time. However, there are several steps they can take to support their child and work alongside the school to ensure their child is receiving the necessary help.
1. Open a Dialogue
Start by having open and non-judgmental conversations with your child about how they're feeling. Allow them to express their feelings without fear of criticism. Use gentle and empathetic language, showing you are there to support them and not to judge them.
2. Educate and Inform Yourself
Increase your understanding of mental health problems. Look for the signs, symptoms, and risk factors associated with mental health disorders and suicidality. Reliable sources can be NHS, Mind, or Rethink Mental Illness.
3. Seek Professional Help
Contact mental health professionals who are trained to handle such situations. This might include your child's paediatrician, a mental health therapist, a psychiatrist, or local mental health services.
4. Encourage Your Child to Share Their Feelings
Encourage your child to talk openly about their thoughts and feelings. Assist them in identifying trusted individuals in their lives with whom they can share their experiences and feelings.
How Parents Can Work with Schools
Contact your child's school and establish a line of communication with their school counsellor, teacher, or the head of the pastoral care team. This might involve setting up meetings, writing emails, or making phone calls.
2. Share Information
Share relevant information about your child's situation and any professional advice you've received. Ensure they're aware of any signs of distress they should look out for. Remember that safeguarding rules mean the school may not be able to share all information they hold on your child with you.
3. Advocate for your Child
If the school is unaware of the mental health challenges facing children and teenagers, advocate for more education, resources, and training. It might be helpful to encourage school administration to consider implementing a mental health policy.
4. Establish an Action Plan with the School
Work with the school to develop an action plan outlining how they will support your child to ensure their safety in the school environment. This might include check-ins with designated staff members, specific plans for stressful times such as exams, or referrals to school-based counselling services.
Remember, you are not alone in this. There are many organisations out there such as YoungMinds or Samaritans that provide advice and support to parents dealing with these issues. Ensuring your child's safety and mental well-being is a collaborative effort between you, the school, and mental health professionals.