Ipswich teacher's mission to expand mental health first aid at schools

Kate Kingsford, lead teacher at Ipswich Hospital School, runs mental health first aid training for schools across Suffolk

Kate Kingsford, lead teacher at Ipswich Hospital School, runs mental health first aid training for schools across Suffolk - Credit: Raedwald Trust

An Ipswich teacher has spoken of her "crucial" mission to expand mental health first aid at Suffolk schools - to "support to children in desperate need".

The government set a December 2020 target for every school to have a trained mental health first aider, who would be a go-to person for pupils in distress - just as a first aider helps anyone suffering physical problems.

However, many have missed the target - and doctors have reported rising levels eating disorders, self-harm and anxiety-related behaviours amongst children since the start of the coronavirus crisis.

Ipswich Hospital School lead teacher Kate Kingsford runs youth mental health first aid training across Suffolk to help teachers spot early signs of conditions like depression, anxiety and suicidal thoughts.

She has urged schools to take urgent action, saying: “Repeated studies have shown that early intervention is important in helping those impacted by mental health issues to develop the strategies and tools to cope in later life.

“That is why it is crucial that schools are able to get trained mental health first aiders in their schools so that they can give that non-judgmental support to children in desperate need.”

Participants on the courses learn how to approach, assess and assist and listen in a non-judgmental way before guiding young people towards professional help and resources.

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They also seek to challenge the stigma surrounding mental health, often a barrier to recovery.

However, Kate believes that if a young person's mental illness is picked up at the early stages, there is a good chance of recovery.

School staff are perfectly placed to spot these signs and, with correct training, can signpost a young person for further help.

“Issues such as self-harm and suicidal thoughts are relatively common and our staff must be properly trained to listen and support our students with their mental health alongside delivering the curriculum," Kate added.

"Across Suffolk, school staff are robustly trained to administer physical first aid to a high standard in schools, mental health first aid is of equal importance and should be seen as a priority especially given the current climate.”

It is a hard job but an incredibly important one and one that must be done correctly by someone with training.”

For more details about mental health first aid courses, email the Raedwald Trust at MHFA@raedwaldtrust.org

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