Around 100 education and mental health leaders gathered at Leeds Beckett University yesterday to help shape the agenda on mental health in schools in an effort to battle “a growing crisis”.
The first annual Schools’ Mental Health Conference also marked the launch of the new Carnegie Centre of Excellence for Mental Health in Schools, a partnership between the university’s School of Education and social enterprise, Minds Ahead.
The event was aimed at making sense of what fast-moving national policies mean for schools, providing attendees with practical methods proven to build student resilience.
Dean Johnstone, founder and CEO of Minds Ahead, said: “There is a crisis in children’s mental health and it wasn’t being addressed from a school perspective.
“This is the first university in the UK to have a centre for mental health, which looks at how schools can approach the issue.
“The number of children suffering with mental health issues is rising, self harm is on the increase and the number of children contacting ChildLine is the highest it’s ever been.
“Services that schools may have been able to access five years ago aren’t there anymore due to funding cuts.
“We are trying to understand what is happening out there and then looking at how we can support schools with practical solutions that don’t need to cost a lot, but can make a really big difference,” he added.
The conference featured talks by high-profile speakers, including the regional NHS England Manager for children and young people’s emotional health and wellbeing. It also showcased some of the “impressive” work already being done by schools in Yorkshire, with several having leaders and senior leadership teams in mental health in place. Innovative projects that the new centre has developed were also highlighted, including teacher training and plans to create a mental health “framework” for schools to follow.
The Yorkshire Evening Post launched the #SpeakYourMind campaign five months ago, in an effort to help break down stigma surrounding mental health in Leeds. Mr Johnstone said: “The campaign is so important as it encourages children to speak and know they will be listened to.”
‘We need to look beyond the classroom’
Leeds Beckett University’s Dean of the Carnegie School of Education said there was now a greater realisation that “we need to look beyond the classroom” when it comes to tackling challenges around children’s mental health.
Professor Damien Page addressed delegates at the first annual Schools’ Mental Health Conference, where he spoke about a new approach to mental health in schools.
He said: “Schools are interested in how to improve classroom practice and now there is a greater realisation that we need to look beyond the classroom: into the playgrounds, into the corridors, wherever there are challenges around mental health and students’ wellbeing. So it is in the interests of the life chances of children, but it’s also in the interests of improving educational outcomes. The centre is going to provide a nexus for bringing together expertise wherever it is found. It is not just about sharing best practice but about defining best practice. It is bringing together schools, universities, colleagues from specialist mental health providers, and charities, to really work together on the same issue from a joined up perspective. We talk a lot about joined up thinking but this is joined up practice. The Government is very interested in policy but we don’t want to wait for policy to go through. We want to get a head start so we can really start helping children now.”
Sent over 300 miles for care
The practice of sending mental health patients far away from friends and family to receive care has become endemic in the NHS, leading doctors warned as new figures show a rise in the number of patients sent miles away. In recent years the Leeds and York Partnership NHS Foundation Trust sent a patient 312 miles away to be cared for at the Glenbourne Unit in Plymouth, the British Medical Association found – one of the five greatest distances patients had to travel to receive care. One patient from Somerset was sent to a care facility in the Highlands, 587 miles away.