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Pioneering mental health project set to expand

​[Press release issued by West Suffolk Clinical Commissioning Group]

A project which is credited with helping students and staff at Thurston Community College achieve better mental health and emotional wellbeing is set to be rolled out further across west Suffolk.

Since early 2017 the college has employed a full-time clinical psychologist – one of the only schools in the country to do so – in partnership with the Norfolk and Suffolk NHS Foundation Trust (NSFT). This expert has been offering support on issues including low self-esteem, anxiety, depression and eating disorders as well as training to staff in identifying issues and how they can be best addressed.

Now, recruitment has begun for three full-time clinical psychologists and one full-time assistant clinical psychologist to be employed at Mildenhall College Academy, Newmarket Academy and Castle Manor Academy Haverhill. They will support the mental wellbeing of the 4300 students and 400 staff members at these secondary schools and several thousand pupils from their feeder primary schools.

Thurston Community College has already reported on the very positive impact their ground-breaking approach to mental health has had, with 81% of students who reported living with anxiety or depression having seen their symptoms improve, resulting in improved engagement with school, greater capacity for learning and increased self-confidence.  Staff have reported that they are experiencing less workplace stress, that they are happier in their work and are much better able to cope with workplace pressures.

The project is part of the system-wide Emotional Wellbeing Transformation Plan for east and west Suffolk, which sets out how by 2020 it will improve children and young people's emotional wellbeing and mental health.

Bury St Edmunds MP, Jo Churchill, has been instrumental in this expansion through the Young Person's Mental Health Working Group.

The project is being funded for two years by NHS West Suffolk Clinical Commissioning Group (WSCCG), as part of its Transformation Fund, supporting projects which promote partnership working for the benefit of local people.

The roll-out of the project aims to replicate this success and by working with pupils, parents and teachers support the estimated one in ten children who have a diagnosable significant mental health issue and the one in four who struggle with a mental health condition such as anxiety and depression.

Dr Beth Mosley, NSFT's clinical psychologist at Thurston Community College who is leading the project's expansion, said: "Being at the helm of this pioneering project since its inception two years ago has been incredible. What has been achieved has been immense and it is so pleasing that we have helped staff and pupils achieve understand themselves and each other better.

"Now we are moving to the next stage and I am thrilled that we can reach out to even more pupils and staff and have a positive impact on their lives.

"Outside of the home, school is often the hub of a young person's life and so is the prime environment to promote resilience and wellbeing. 40% of adult mental health issues develop before the age of 14, yet only 25-40% of young people receive the right support.

"Young people are our future which is why it is so important they get the right help early on."

Dr Rosalind Tandy, a GP in Bury St Edmunds who leads on mental health for WSCCG, said: "The good work happening at Thurston Communty College is truly innovative and it is certainly pleasing that even more young people are set to benefit.

"The more we can help and support people early on the far greater chance of them living happier and healthier adult lives. The actions we take now will have a really big impact on their future."

Jo Churchill, MP for Bury St Edmunds, said: "This project allows children to gain both the support and tools they need to succeed emotionally, academically and in terms of their personal growth. I am incredibly keen to see this successful model rolled out more widely, so that even more students and teachers, and arguably parents, can see the benefits of integrating mental health support into the education environment. I would like to particularly thank both Beth and Helen Wilson, the head of Thurston Community College, for showing inspirational leadership, in what I have termed across government as the Thurston Model."

The Rt Hon Matt Hancock, MP for West Suffolk and Secretary of State for Health and Social Care, said: "As West Suffolk MP I care deeply that everyone growing up locally has the best start in life. That means supporting our schools, and increasingly looking out for the mental health of pupils. The addition of full-time clinical psychologists at Mildenhall College Academy, Newmarket Academy and Castle Manor Academy is excellent news and is extremely welcome. The idea has worked well elsewhere, like in Thurston, and will have the power to improve the lives of both staff and pupils in our west Suffolk schools."

Vanessa Whitcombe, headteacher at the Castle Manor Academy in Haverhill, said: "We are delighted to be able to be involved in such an innovative project. Helping us to extend our provision with such high quality expertise will doubtless benefit many of our young people."

Caption: Dr Beth Mosley (left) with Bury St Edmunds MP, Jo Churchill