Mental Health in the Classroom: are today’s teachers equipped to tackle it?

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Almost half of the school-aged children in the United States experienced a traumatic event in the home in 2016 and incidents of mental health in children have risen dramatically in recent years world-wide. Mental health problems affect 1 in 10 young people in the United Kingdom, yet 50% of primary school teachers surveyed in England said they were unsure how to support children with mental health issues. A survey of 600 principals and teachers by Australian mental health charity beyondblue found that 47% said they didn’t have the time to dedicate to the mental health of students in the classroom.

A recent survey conducted by the Scottish Association for Mental Health found that only one out of 100 teachers in the country recalled training on mental health issues and how to spot them during their time as a student teacher.

Many teachers, worldwide, report feeling as if they do not receive adequate training in how to counsel and engage with students on mental health issues or controversial subjects.

Yet with their daily access to children, a teacher can often be in an ideal position to notice the tell-tale signs and symptoms of some sort of trauma or mental illness early on. There’s also evidence to suggest that in half of mental health conditions, symptoms will begin to emerge by age 14, meaning that teachers properly trained and equipped to deal with these issues means pupils could benefit from early detection and treatment.

There have been some efforts by governments and school to begin to address the gap in training. Wales has recently undertaken a new initiative designed to help provide support to school teachers and pupils by making specialist health staff accessible regularly to schools.

One school in Melbourne, Australia is also taking a new approach to tackling mental health through counselling and education. Ivanhoe Girls’ Grammar School runs a ‘fail week’ which encourages students to recognise the importance of failure to learning and development, the even includes teachers showcasing their own stuff-ups in the form of video footage.

But more still needs to be done if we want to seriously tackle the problem of youth mental illness, the problem is complex and a two-day training course or online module, while providing useful tools, is not necessarily enough.

The sort of guidance that teachers are expected to provide to students in a 21st Century class room goes beyond Professional career guidance or counselling. Diversity counselling, trauma counselling and anti-bullying initiatives are all becoming more and more necessary to help young people tackle the issues and hardships they may be faced with. In an industry where many are already overworked and strapped for time, placing the onus of identifying and recognising symptoms on teachers, as well as expecting them to provide the support, confidence-building and counselling, is too great a burden.

Government and community initiatives need to also train and help parents, relatives and friends. The battle for combating mental illness and reaching those students affected is a shared burden. It begins with counselling, not just in one office in a school, but in the classrooms, in the home and in the community.



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