Schools can provide a good environment where support can be provided for children and young people to improve mental health. In 2014, local authority public health team and school nurses piloted a mental health promotion programme aimed at all the pupils in one secondary school. This programme was designed to be rolled out to all secondary schools as part of a city-wide initiative aimed at improving the mental health of children and young people.
The programme would consist of events where the public health team leader for mental health talked to the whole school about psychological wellbeing. This would be followed up by classroom discussions with the school nurse to increase understanding of mental health issues, substance misuse, stress and social skills and discuss issues raised.
The pilot, carried out in one school, commenced with an open meeting where parents were informed of the initiative and they and the teaching staff were supportive. The initiative was designed to run for a full year and resources for an outcome evaluation were included.
However, the evaluation report concluded that ‘there is little evidence that the scheme has changed pupils’ views about mental health or stigmas about mental illness’. On receiving this report, the Director of Public Health suggested the programme should be modified and highlighted an article about mental health promotion in comprehensive schools in Finland (Onnela et al., 2014) with the aim of improving collaboration between stakeholders.
Using the key principles of the Finnish approach, the public health team and the school nurse modified their plan accordingly. This included a proposal for school nurses and trained mental health nurses to provide drop-in sessions for individual students and run small group sessions to help build resilience as well as provide opportunities to discuss issues further if needed. Teachers would also be encouraged to get more involved and attend training days to help them better support their students. Public health resources were identified to take the work forward and to encourage collaboration between the various stakeholders involved in this initiative.
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