The complexities of mental health and wellbeing (for schools and colleges)
The complexities of mental health and wellbeing (for schools and colleges)

The complexities of mental health and wellbeing (for schools and colleges)

This week’s professional learning focused on the importance of a pupils mental health and wellbeing and how these two components influence a pupil’s cognitive development and learning, their physical and social health and their mental wellbeing journey through to adulthood. Within just a few hours reading, the complexities of this professional learning focus was starkly apparent.

In 2020, one in six (16.0%) children aged 5 to 16 years were identified as having a probable mental disorder, increasing from one in nine (10.8%) in 2017.

The likelihood of a probable mental disorder increased with age with a noticeable difference in gender for the older age group (17 to 22 years); 27.2% of young women and 13.3% of young men were identified as having a probable mental disorder.

Furthermore, post COVID, whilst evidence shows that children and young people have generally coped well during the pandemic other evidence suggests that some children and young people, have experienced greater negative impacts on their mental health and wellbeing, “such as those who are disadvantaged economically, females, and those with pre-existing mental health needs.”

Starting with the Statutory Guidance

Physical health and mental wellbeing are interlinked, and it is important that pupils understand that good physical health contributes to good mental wellbeing, and vice versa.

Physical health and mental wellbeing (Primary and secondary) – GOV.UK (

I started with ‘Keeping children safe in education’ (KCSIE) which outline the statutory guidance for all schools to promote the welfare of their pupils. Next, I moved to better understand the pre-existing statutory responsibilities on the special educational needs and disabilities (SEND) code of practice. From there the lines of enquiry expanded inexorably.

Other recommended reading includes The government’s Green Paper ‘Transforming Children and Young People’s Mental Health Provision’ and two NHS links, ‘Mental health of children and young people in England, 2020: Wave 1 and Public Health England. ‘COVID-19 mental health and wellbeing surveillance report, Chapter 4: Children and young people’ (2021). There is significant coverage in ‘Relationships Education, Relationships and Sex Education (RSE) and Health Education, guidance to school staff on ‘Mental health and behaviour in schools,’ (2018) and on ‘Counselling in schools,’ (2015), ‘Supporting pupils at school with medical conditions,’ and of course there is what Ofsted’s School inspection handbook sets out as schools “providing good education, supported by high quality pastoral care and making sure that pupils know how to keep physically and mentally healthy. I even stumble upon a ‘Mental wellbeing teacher training module,’ not that it was very helpful.

From here, the breadth and complexities of associated mental health and wellbeing topics, and often intertwined, exploded: loneliness, bullying, harassment, and abuse, grief, loss and bereavement support, self-harm, eating disorders, suicide prevention, domestic abuse, trauma and violence exposure, substance and alcohol misuse, anxiety disorders, identity issues (gender identity, sexual orientation and the recent The CASS Review), online safety, trauma and abuse (physical, emotional, or sexual), sleep disorders and insomnia, socioeconomic stressors and disparities, cultural and ethnic identity issues, sexual health and relationships issues. And whilst schools and colleges play a significant and valuable role in promoting mental health and wellbeing, identifying and recognising emerging issues and providing early support, the need to working effectively with external agencies to provide swift access or referrals to specialist support and treatment, adds yet another layer of complexity.

Time to pause and reflect.

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