Thai boxing champion and athlete mentor Rachael MacKenzie

A ground-breaking programme to support the mental health of children and young people in schools and colleges in Greater Manchester is to be doubled in size.

The Greater Manchester Mentally Healthy Schools and Colleges programme commissioned by Greater Manchester Health and Social Care Partnership is to be expanded from the current 64 educational settings to a total of 125 schools, colleges and pupil referral units.

The programme provides training and support through:

  • Training to become mental health champions for both school leaders and school students
  • Mental health first aid training for school staff – allowing them to spot the signs and symptoms, enabling quicker intervention, enabling “difficult conversations” and signpost to appropriate support
  • Work with athlete mentors to develop young mental health champions and work with targeted groups to build resilience and develop coping strategies using healthy active lifestyles to prevent stress and anxiety
  • One to one support for the more vulnerable children – by appointment with a trained mental health worker
  • Support for senior leaders to establish a whole school leadership strategy for mental health and wellbeing

Expansion of the programme will mean one in 10 schools in Greater Manchester is now supported by the project.

It follows the success of the first two phases of the programme, launched in March 2018, which has built the confidence of teachers, support staff and students to deal with mental health issues.

An independent evaluation of the impact of the first 31 schools over the initial six months showed:

  • 175 school staff received mental health first aid training and they reported feeling more confident and able to deal with it as a result
  • 157 primary and secondary school pupils were trained to become mental health champions
  • The athlete-led workshops were overwhelmingly popular and levels of physical activity, mindset and coping strategies improved for both primary and secondary school children
  • Primary school pupils trained as mental health champions reported very high levels of confidence in their role, while 93% of secondary school pupils reported that their knowledge of the issue had improved

The Greater Manchester Mentally healthy Schools and Colleges programme is provided by a consortium of:

  • Alliance for Learning, a Greater Manchester teaching school that leads and coordinates the programme and provides the mental health first aid training
  • Youth Sports Trust, a children’s charity with a mission to improve young people’s wellbeing and give them a brighter future, which delivers the programme in schools through its athlete mentors.
  • 42nd Street, a children and young person’s mental health charity
  • Place2Be, a children’s mental health charity which provides school-based mental health support and training
  • Local children and adults mental health services

The decision over which schools and colleges are to take part in the programme is made by local authority education teams, health and social care commissioners and local mental health teams.

Warren Heppolette, executive lead for strategy & system development at the Greater Manchester Health and Social Care Partnership, said: “Anxiety, depression and other mental health conditions affect young people’s learning, their happiness and their future prospects.

“We know also that schools and colleges are some of the best places to address this, provide young people with the skills, knowledge and confidence to overcome these problems and prevent problems from getting worse.

“This expansion means more children and young people can build the necessary skills to look after their own wellbeing and to support their peers.”

Dr Sandeep Ranote, Greater Manchester clinical lead for children and young people’s mental health, said: “We know one in eight young people has a mental health condition but with a combination of education, awareness and timely access to the right treatment and support they can be given the opportunity to be well and achieve their full potential. This can only be provided by the whole health, care and education system working together for the young people and their families, as demonstrated by the mentally healthy schools programme.”

Lisa Fathers, director of Teaching School at Alliance for Learning (Bright Futures Educational Trust) said: “We’re thrilled that this next phase will make the scheme accessible to so many more schools, improving the mental health of individuals and wider communities across Greater Manchester.

“Through our teaching school network and working with our partners, we will continue to support and empower students and colleagues in education, giving them the confidence to practice greater self-care.”

This project is part of a £134m action plan announced in 2017 to help to transform mental health in Greater Manchester for children and adults. The overall investment programme – the biggest and most ambitious of its kind in the country – aims not only to put mental health on an equal footing with physical health, but to start to deliver our vision of making sure that no child who needs mental health support will be turned away.

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