Non-teaching staff should be trained to spot signs of mental ill-health outside the classroom, says RSA

By agency reporter
October 10, 2018

Schools should train non-teaching as well as teaching staff to spot signs of mental ill-health outside the classroom, a study says, amid concerns of the impact of social media on pupils’ wellbeing.

  • Schools can address mental ill-health through training non-teaching staff to provide support
  • Teachers told researchers social media induced anxiety is affecting pupils from as young as Year Three and Year Four
  • Young girls particularly affected, study suggests                                                   

A Whole School Approach to Mental Health by the Royal Society for the encouragement of Arts, Manufactures and Commerce (RSA) and funded by the Pears Foundation, explores the impact of providing mental health support training to teaching and non-teaching staff in seven schools, including six RSA academies.

An independent evaluation of the programme by the Anna Freud Centre, based on pre-training and post-training surveys, found:

  • all participating staff reported significantly greater awareness and literacy around pupils’ mental health, greater confidence in talking about and responding to mental health problems, which all increased by around 13 per cent
  • there was a 53 per cent increase in ‘staff supportive behaviours’, meaning that all of the positive outcomes anticipated from the impact of the programme did occur.

A whole-school approach, which could include non-teaching staff such as lunchtime assistants who can often spot what is going on outside the classroom, can help build a culture in which any pupil can turn to any adult for support, the RSA report concludes. 

Meanwhile teachers told researchers that social media induced mental illness had increased in recent years, and now dominates pupils’ social interaction.  

In one case, despite an incident of social media bullying warranting a police investigation, a pupil in question still refused to delete their account for fear of missing out. 

Girls were particularly affected by anxiety issues, researchers heard, with teachers believing pupils as young as Year 3 and Year 4 afflicted with self-image concerns as a result of social media.  

Previous RSA research recommended social media giants should offer free adverts to mental health services to counter the effects on young people’s wellbeing.  

Earlier this month, Secretary of State for Health and Social Care Matt Hancock warned of the dangers of social media on children’s mental health, comparing its impact to that sugar on physical health. 

The report was launched at the RSA on Monday 8 October 2018, with speakers including Dr Marc Bush, director of evidence and policy at Young Minds, and Dr Polly Casey, research fellow at UCL.

Tom Harrison, report co-author and researcher at the RSA, said:  “Our study uncovered growing concern about the impact of cuts to support services and heightened thresholds for mental health services amongst schools staff – in fact, alongside the impact that social media and cyber-bullying is having on young peoples’ wellbeing, this was the most important issue  raised by staff in schools participating in the research. 

“Despite strains on capacity for staff in schools, we found clear benefits from having a ‘whole school’ approach to mental health training, including a much better culture of openness and breaking the taboo of mental ill-health – and not just for pupils. 

“Likewise, non-teaching staff can often be the first to spot what’s going on outside the classroom and can benefit from training to spot signs of pupils’ mental ill-health and make appropriate referrals. And often pupils will feel more comfortable talking about their mental health to a non-teaching member of staff.

* Download A Whole School Approach to Mental Health here

* The Royal Society of Arts https://www.thersa.org/

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