Every little helps…

reading time 3 minutes 12s

Miss, can I speak to you?

As I frantically try to add the final bits of data onto the school system before the 9am deadline, a student approaches my desk. The last thing I need to deal with right now is another student telling me about the funny thing their cat did last night and so I respond with a rather curt “Yes.”

She begins to tell me how there’s been another incident at home and how in frustration she has scratched her arms and is now worried about other students seeing it. As the school bell goes to signal the start of form, my desperate need to complete yet another admin task is quickly overtaken with the frustration of not being able to give her the time and support she clearly needs.

But they have so many holidays!

Having been a Head of House for two years this is not the first time, and sadly won’t be the last time, that I will be required to support a student with their mental health problems. With reports of 98% of teachers coming into contact with pupils experiencing mental health problems2, I know that unfortunately my case is a common one. Often teachers can be given a tough time in the press, when teachers strike due to workload, our work ethic is brought into question with cries of “But they have so many holidays!”. However, what they don’t see, are the lunchtimes spent with students because they have no one they can talk to at home, or the heart wrenching stories we get told in safeguarding briefings that make us wish we could do more to help.

With estimations that 1 in 10 young people have a clinically diagnosed mental health problem, 70% of those diagnosed have not had access to meaningful interventions1, the government has pledged that every secondary school in the country will be offered Mental Health First Aid training by 2020. With two years to go before this deadline and with progress feeling rather stunted, it appears to me we need to take more immediate action. Teachers really are at the frontline of being able to offer first hand support, although often, this can feel like such a daunting task, it really can be the little things that make such a difference.

Having attended numerous workshops and seminars on mental health there has always been one story that has really stuck with me. A psychiatrist who had previously worked for CAMHS (NHS’s Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services) was working with a patient who had had a terrible childhood, and who many considered it a miracle he was still here. She asked him one day what it was that kept him going, his doctors? His friends? No. It was the lollypop lady that he passed every day on his way to school. She would always greet him with a smile and ask about his day, it may sound like such a small gesture but having consistency, knowing that there would always be someone who was pleased to see him helped him to see someone did care. It is stories like these that show what an important position we hold and that without realising it often we have the power to change the course of a young person’s day and in some cases their life too.

Although it may seem like an overwhelming task, I guarantee you will have already helped so many young people just by being the caring professionals you are. So I ask that we all pledge to take a couple of minutes out of our day to take the time to greet and talk with our students as I guess it really is true what they say; every little helps…

For further information regarding mental health support and young people please visit www.mind.org.uk

1 Children’s Society (2008) The Good Childhood Inquiry: health research evidence. London: Children’s Society.

2 NASUWT Survey https://www.nasuwt.org.uk/article-listing/schools-need-support-mental-health-upsurge-pupils.html (2017)

Ms Jordan Whitworth
Head of Religion, Ethics and Philosophy
Shipston High School