Schools in Norfolk and Suffolk urged to do their bit to improve mental health

Neatherd teacher Nick O’Brien has used Tom Daley’s very public “coming out” as the subject for an ed

Neatherd teacher Nick O’Brien has used Tom Daley’s very public “coming out” as the subject for an educational Powerpoint presentation during LGBT history week. Picture: Ian Burt - Credit: IAN BURT

Encouraging children to talk about mental health from an early age can help to destigmatise the subject and identify issues early. As part of our Mental Health Watch campaign, MARK SHIELDS looks at the roles schools might have to play.

MAP youth team workers in their drop-in café area. From left, front, Charlie Bocock, Hazel Erskine,

MAP youth team workers in their drop-in café area. From left, front, Charlie Bocock, Hazel Erskine, Danny Whitehouse. Back, Lisa Walford, Lynne Janes, Gillian Rockey, Jessica Barnard, Paul Webb, Will Mills, Ed King, and Tonia Mihill. Picture: DENISE BRADLEY - Credit: Copyright: Archant 2015

Good mental health is important at any age – but many of the problems we experience as adults first manifest themselves in childhood.

Today, as part of our Mental Health Watch campaign, we urge schools in Norfolk and Waveney to play their part in promoting active mental health awareness and education.

Many already have programmes in place, whether run in-house or by charities, and we call on them to share their successes with others to end the stigma, and give pupils the skills they need to cope with the challenges of adolescence.

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With three-quarters of adult mental health problems having started by the age of 18, and an average of three children in every class experiencing them, the case for early and effective intervention and education is strong.

The question of how to deliver better and earlier mental health education in schools has been prompted by figures which show referrals to the region's mental health trust have risen steeply over the past three years.

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In Norfolk they have doubled, with 5,194 episodes of care in 2014-15 compared to 2,588 in 2011-12.

Health and education leaders say the figures reflect the increased pressure on youngsters and anxiety over their futures, but also a greater willingness among them to seek help.

Dereham Neatherd High School has worked with the organisation Time to Change to make mental health issues a topic of open discussion throughout the school.

This month, Time to Change is asking schools across the country to join its Make Time 4 Mental Health programme, by committing to deliver four free 10-minute scripted lessons and kick-start discussion among pupils.

Assistant headteacher Nick O'Brien said Neatherd's own programme – introduced first for teachers, then extended to students – had had such a positive effect the school was looking at how it could be shared with others in Norfolk.

'It's like physical health: you need to work on it and be able to talk about it, and take away the stigma,' he said.

Its approach has three strands: supporting pupils with mental health issues, educating parents on how they can help, and raising awareness throughout the school. A monthly discussion event is held and a counsellor is on hand three days a week for pupils to speak to.

In July, a national survey of more than 1,000 headteachers found that more than two-thirds were worried about their pupils' mental health.

Mr O'Brien said he was concerned at the number of students with mental health issues, and the rise overall in the county, but added his school was no different to others in that regard.

'Schools can become really pressured environments, especially with the issues in some of Norfolk's schools.

'It's very hard as teachers not to transmit that to kids and put pressure on them to do well,' he said.

'It's about making a whole-school environment where pupils feel safe and not too stressed.'

Ministers last week launched a new £660,000 anti-stigma campaign using social media, school visits and online information, working alongside Time to Change in 30 schools across the country.

Sue Baker, director of Time to Change, said: 'Young people have told us that stigma is life-limiting - it affects friendships and school life, and for a quarter it even makes them want to give up on life. This has to be the generation for change.'

The Norfolk and Suffolk NHS Foundation Trust, which oversees mental health care in the county, says schools are a key route to accessing its services, and offers specialist teaching materials and staff to speak on subjects such as depression, anxiety or exam stress.

Andy Goff, improvement and development manager, said: 'One of our priorities for 2016 is to develop named mental health link workers for each school in Norfolk and Waveney, so that more young people can receive help at an early stage.'

In September, it launched an initiative to send a mental health practitioner to schools whose pupils have more significant issues, and is working in three currently.

'It has had a fantastic impact so far as it takes care directly to the young people and their parents rather than expecting them to come to a clininc for support.

'It also gives our staff the chance to carry out clinical supervision with teaching staff, which gives them a better understanding of the language around mental health so that they can better respond to some of the challenges these young people can pose.'

Norfolk County Council's educational psychology and specialist support teams work with children in schools, delivering cognitive behavioural therapy, assertiveness training for bullied children, and stress management advice..

Next year it will launch a 20-session programme for adults working with children in families, covering issues including attachment and trauma, stress, depression and anxiety, self-harm and mindfulness.

Is your school working to improve mental health education among young people? Email


Three schools in Norwich are benefiting from a £1.6m, five-year project aimed at tackling mental health issues in children early.

The city-based Mancroft Advice Project (MAP) is delivering the early action mental health programme in City Academy, City of Norwich School and Notre Dame High School.

It operates on a drop-in basis and styles itself as a 'one-stop shop for young people trying to find their way', according to Tonia Mihill, therapeutic services team manager.

That ranges from a friendly ear to listen to pupils' frustrations through to counselling and referral to specialists where necessary.

The message is that poor mental health, like poor physical health, can affect anyone and pupils are encouraged to talk about problems before they become more serious.

'We don't need to diagnose or decide you have a mental health issue. We just try to get you to where you want to be,' said Ms Mihill.

The team often sees youngsters coping with school or cyber-bullying and turbulent adolescent relationships, which can often lead to low mood or anxiety.

'You're in school all day, where there's a lot of pressure to achieve, and you have social media in the evenings,' said Ms Mihill.

'It's hard for young people. It's a harsh world out there, there's a lot of youth unemployment and they're told that if they don't do well their life is going to go down the pan. Whether it's true or not is irrelevant, because this is what they are hearing.'

The youth workers work

closely with the school, but remain independent and maintain confidentiality – important in winning youngsters' trust. 'It's not an age when young people want to talk to their mum about how they feel,' said Ms Mihill.

'That age group need confidentiality and space to be themselves and they will be a different self around their maths teacher.'

MAP is also part of the Point

1 service, along with the Norfolk and Suffolk Foundation Trust, which looks for the early signs of mental health difficulties in children from birth to age 18.

Its Empowering You programme runs in three schools every half term, building mental health resilience, and then allows pupils to refer themselves for counselling. Parents are also supported so that they in turn can help their children.

'We live in a shiny consumer culture where we see a perfect version of life,' said Ms Mihill.

'People feel their lives are so far away from the advertising dream that they have let themselves and their families down.'


If you want your school to get involved, you can find more information here:

Time to Change is asking secondary schools to join its Make Time 4 Mental Health programme this November. Sign up to receive the four 10-minute scripted lessons at

NSFT's youth website includes teaching materials, blogs, videos and other resources

YoungMinds' website has information for young people as well as support for parents and professionals. See Parents' hotline: 0808 8025544

Find out more about the Mancroft Advice Project at

If you are troubled by low moods, anxiety, stress or depression or know someone who is, Wellbeing Norfolk and Waveney and Suffolk Wellbeing can help with free, confidential NHS support such as one-to-one counselling, group sessions and self-help courses.

Call 0300 1231503 in Norfolk and Waveney or see For Suffolk services, call 0300 1231781 or see

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