Thursday 23 November 2023

Addressing the Need for Prevention and Long-Term Impact Measurement in Education Mental Health Strategy

Emma Trinder

Co.Lab founder

Developing a comprehensive mental health strategy in education requires a focus on prevention and long-term impact measurement. Traditional approaches and training programs alone cannot achieve the ambitious goal of reaching all children and young people with mental illnesses, as outlined in the NHS Long Term Plan.

To address mental health challenges effectively, it is crucial to strengthen community assets and prioritise prevention and early detection methods. Technology can play a vital role in facilitating universal reach and multi-agency collaboration through human-centred design approaches. By leveraging technology, we can connect CAMHS clinicians, voluntary organisations, and community members with trusted adults like teachers, who play a crucial role in supporting children.

We propose implementing the Whole School Approach to Mental Health and Wellbeing (WSA) developed by Public Health England. Several reports have highlighted the benefit of the Mental Health Support Teams in schools, but staff retention and clinical capacity remain problematic; by integrating intuitive technology solutions, schools and colleges can empower their staff, including Senior Mental Health Leads (SMHLs), to implement a comprehensive WSA, expanding the clinical capacity of MHSTs. This approach necessitates a cultural shift in education, supported by systematic progress measurement, access to psychoeducation, curriculum plans, continuous professional development (CPD), and high-quality resources.

Technology can enhance collaboration efforts between healthcare and educational institutions, helping them to identify priority areas for focus in the academic year, fostering collaboration among different settings within a local authority area and nationally to embark upon improvement journeys together.

Our engagement has identified three positions of schools, each requiring tailored approaches:

  • Schools with a Culture of Mental Health and Wellbeing: These schools already prioritise mental health and take a proactive approach to prevention and intervention
  • Schools Overwhelmed by Need and Change: These schools face significant challenges in embracing change and meeting the overwhelming demand for the mental health of their pupils
  • Schools Prioritising Attainment at the Expense of Mental Health: These schools emphasise academic achievement but may unintentionally neglect students' mental health and wellbeing

To meet these diverse needs, we must not rely solely on human resources. Swift adoption of generative AI and machine learning platforms is necessary to align mental health and education with the progress of the modern world.

To prevent the deterioration of children and young people's mental health, we must leverage technology and enhance the skills and knowledge of frontline workers. Technology solutions can transcend physical limitations, promote collaboration between health, education, and community service organisations beyond physical and organisational geography and save precious time for teachers and professionals seeking resources.

While models like the Whole School/College Approach are valuable, variations in their understanding and utilisation exist. Consistency is key when aiming to tackle the increasing prevalence of mental illness. Embracing technology can establish standardised baseline measurements and facilitate large-scale engagement. This comprehensive understanding of a school's mental health culture enables effective monitoring of trends, data-driven decision-making, and meaningful progress toward improved mental health outcomes.

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