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How do you tell if your child is struggling with their mental health or developing an eating disorder?

26 July, 2019 - 17:08
Beth Mosley has been working with pupils at Thurston Community College  Picture: NHS

Beth Mosley has been working with pupils at Thurston Community College Picture: NHS

You may have read recent headlines about government plans for every new teacher in England to be trained so they can spot early warning signs of mental health, writes Andy Brogan, Deputy Chief Executive of Essex Partnership University NHS Foundation Trust, part of the Suffolk and North East Essex Integrated Care System.

Andy Brogan tells us how to spot early signs of mental illness and what is being done in Suffolk and Essex to support young people  Picture: NHSAndy Brogan tells us how to spot early signs of mental illness and what is being done in Suffolk and Essex to support young people Picture: NHS

It's part of an initiative being considered to make improvements in preventing problems developing and manifesting. As it is widely recognised, mental health can have devastating consequences if not treated or managed effectively.

While many commentators regarded this idea as a move by Theresa May to use her last days in office to concentrate on what she regarded as key domestic issues, I welcome the attention this subject has received.

Within Suffolk and North East Essex, we are relatively advanced in supporting our teachers to spot signs of mental illness among students. At Thurston Community College near Bury St Edmunds, a full time clinical psychologist is in post to support those students who have been identified with mental health issues - one of the only schools in the country to appoint to this role on a full time basis.

In a newsletter article within Can Do Health and Care - the name for the Suffolk and North East Essex Integrated Care System - the Principal of the college, Helen Wilson, said since the role was appointed to, teachers have made a real difference to the lives of students. She also said colleagues feel more aware of the issues and signs when a problem may be emerging, and are more confident in dealing with those students who may need additional mental health support.

At Thurston Community College near Bury St Edmunds, a full time clinical psychologist is in post to support those students who have been identified with mental health issues    Picture: NHSAt Thurston Community College near Bury St Edmunds, a full time clinical psychologist is in post to support those students who have been identified with mental health issues Picture: NHS

The scheme has been so successful that there are moves to expand the Thurston Community College model into a small number of other schools within the county.

The Great Bentley Primary School, near Colchester, has established a Wellbeing Hub where the children spend time using art, science and construction activities to explore self-awareness. Fully trained teachers are able to deliver a variety of different supported group activities in which the school children can build appropriate, supportive relationships, which provide them with emotional support and enable them to build resilience skills.

Elsewhere across Suffolk and North East Essex, a national charity that supports people affected by eating disorders, Beat, has been delivering training for school-based professionals across Colchester and Tendring, called 'Spotting the Signs'. This training, which is bring provided in partnership with the local Emotional Wellbeing Mental Health Service, will continue to be rolled out. The charity says that it is estimated around 20% of young people within secondary schools will exhibit some signs of an eating disorder.

These initiatives are especially important as, according to figures from the Mental Health Foundation, mental health problems affect about 1 in 10 children and young people. The Foundation goes onto report that 70% of children and young people who experience a mental health problem did not have appropriate interventions at a sufficiently early age.

The recently published NHS Long Term Plan describes how future health and care services will be delivered across England. A key aspect of this will be mental health - and within this - providing young people with the skills and knowledge to manage their own mental wellbeing before it becomes a real problem.

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