Lindsey Shaffer, lead CAMHS practitioner for the Emotional Health in Schools Service in Manchester, has arranged for all nine of the schools covered by the service to take part in Make Time.
Her own school, Newall Green High School in Wythenshawe, has a well-established whole-school approach to mental health that offers fertile ground for the anti-stigma messages that Make Time tackles.
Ms Shaffer works with a multi-agency team that includes pastoral staff, a member of the police, a social worker, and a clinical psychologist.
She explained: “We have weekly agency meetings and every six weeks we have an Emotional Health in School meeting where students can be referred by parents and carers, for example.
“The students are then offered help from members of the team. This could be a CAMHS practitioner or a psychologist, but importantly help for students is provided within the school, not through a ‘scary’ clinic. This also means that we are able to monitor the situation better and get a better picture of what is going on.”
When it comes to conveying messages about mental health, Ms Shaffer takes a holistic approach. She and her colleagues talk about mental health as part of the PSHE curriculum, during assemblies, in groups, in meetings with family members, right down to one-on-one meetings with individuals. A key part of the approach involves displaying positive images around the school as well. The plan for the free Make Time resources is to incorporate them into PSHE and form time during November.
Ensuring that staff are fully prepared and supported when implementing the materials has been a key consideration.
At Newall Green all staff members have had training around awareness of mental health issues and they are fully alert to the importance of early identification of young people who may be having a hard time. But there is still some nervousness about tackling a subject in which teachers feel that they are not experts.
Ms Shaffer continued: “This kind of thing always has the potential to raise anxiety. So it’s important that staff are properly supported, especially as teachers may have had mental health problems themselves.”
As for the students, Ms Shaffer anticipates a positive reaction when the Make Time sessions get fully under way. From her experience across the nine schools who benefit from the Emotional Health in Schools Service, she observes that young people are usually keen to talk about issues around mental health.
Her message to Time to Change is that while mental health stigma clearly still needs addressing, students’ attitudes are – in her experience – changing for the better. She added: “Kids are often comfortable to discuss the issues, to explore the mix of different backgrounds, and different opinions. They are generally very receptive of mental health issues.”
The willingness to talk clearly helps dispel myths and reduce discrimination. It also, in Ms Shaffer’s view, has a directly beneficial effect on students’ mental health.
“Mental illness is more accepted and more on the agenda. Young people talk about it now and there are more ways for them to discuss their feelings and what they are going through, especially with social media.
“People can talk to their friends and share experiences and they can also get help – there are a number of lines of support. And people are also very likely to look things up and find out about issues rather than taking the big step of meeting their GP.”
Almost 300 schools have signed up for the Make Time in November campaign, which offers free resources centred around four key themes: What is mental health? Thinking about your own mental health, Helping your friends, and Taking action on mental health. Schools can still register at www.time-to-change.org.uk/november