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Last updated: 30.10.18

Safeguarding young people with mental health problems

Why is Mental Health so important?

Young people’s mental health is becoming a global concern. So much so that it was the theme of this year’s World Mental Health Day, and the government has announced that it is a huge focus of theirs. It cannot be ignored, and we must make it our priority too.


Here are some UK statistics to consider: 1 in 10 children and young people in the UK have a mental health problem. It is believed that around 13% of young people self-harm. 37% of teenage girls report symptoms of depression and anxiety. 90% of teachers say they have experienced a pupil suffering from anxiety and panic attacks. These types of figures continue to build up at an alarming rate. So, what we can we do to support our young people?


What can be done to help?

Earlier this month, on World Mental Health Day, the government announced its plans for young people’s mental health, and stressed that in order to support young people, we need to ensure training is provided so we can better understand their mental health, recognise the signs and symptoms and know the best ways to approach it. To help achieve this, the government has started recruiting for new mental health support teams who will work with schools to ensure young people with mental health problems get the help required. The teams will begin their training in January 2019. The government is right to recognise young people’s mental health and the definite training gap – one that is key to supporting young people.


Why is mental health training needed?

Mental health is such a complex area and an important one in safeguarding. All the safeguarding topics that are currently (and rightly) under the microscope – child sexual exploitation, forced marriage, female genital mutilation, child abuse and so on – will all have impact on children and young people’s mental health. But information specifically about mental and emotional health in children, the associated disorders and other factors that can have an impact – body image, social media, relationships, anxiety, low self-esteem – aren’t covered by training to the same extent – or not yet anyway.


As you can see from the statistics, these factors are just as important and so we need to start working on understanding and recognising them. And as teachers, volunteers and carers are well placed to observe young people day-to-day, it is important that they can recognise signs that might suggest that a young person is suffering from a mental health problem or might be at risk of developing one.

What can schools do to help


But it is not only the caregivers that need to be aware; it is also important to teach the students. Lots of schools already have resources and lessons in place to help build emotional resilience, and there is a big movement to start teaching other topics, such as online safety and relationships, to ensure they are better informed and more aware of the potential risks out there. It is important this knowledge sharing continues and that we include topics specifically around mental health, so children and young people are well placed to better understand themselves and their emotional and mental health.


What mental health training is already available?

There is face-to-face training available for professionals working with children and young people (such as courses by Young Minds) but as the demand for e-learning grows, so will the need for online training about mental health.


Here at Virtual College, we have not only written and created our own training regarding different mental health topics, but collaborated with fantastic mental health charities, such as Mind, Family Links and selfharmUK, to produce online courses. Here are a couple of examples:


Family Links’ Mental and Emotional Health in Schools course ensures teachers understand the challenges that young people face and can recognise the signs of poor mental health and know how to respond to them. It also provides skills and strategies to support good mental health, as well as explaining the staff’s roles and responsibilities in this area. This is a fantastic resource for school staff.


As the title suggests, our Self-harm and Suicidal Thoughts in Children and Young People course focuses on how to spot the signs that suggest self-harm and suicidal thoughts, what to do if you suspect them and what the risk factors and possible causes could be. This is a great resource for professionals working with children and young people.


These are just a couple of courses we have helped produce and we firmly believe that more courses like these will be required in the future.


Over to you…

Consider these questions:

  • Do you feel confident about safeguarding young people’s mental health?
  • Can you spot signs and symptoms suggesting a mental health problem? Do you know what to do if you’ve spotted a sign?
  • Do you know what young people worry about? Do you know how to talk to them about their worries?
  • Do you have strategies to suggest to young people to help them manage their difficult feelings?
  • Do you have tools to manage difficult conversations you might need to have with a young person?
  • Do you understand why a young person might self-harm?


These questions provide a small window into the skills and insights that are required when safeguarding young people with mental health problems. Your answers might suggest whether you (or your staff) require training or not, and if you do, it is important to find the training solution that works for you.


If you would like some advice on what training might work for you, or would like to discuss training possibilities, please contact our Safeguarding Learning Technology Consultant, Felicity Bagshaw, at felicity.bagshaw@virtual-college.co.uk and she’ll be happy to advise.