Thurston Community College is one of the only schools in the country to appoint a full time expert to support students with mental health issues including anxiety, lack of self-esteem, eating or behavioural disorders and bereavement.
During Mental Health Awareness Week 2017 as part of the College’s bid to raise awareness of the issues which increasingly affect young people’s mental wellbeing, it is discussing its decision to appoint a fulltime clinical psychologist, working in partnership with Norfolk and Suffolk NHS FT (NSFT).
The College appointed Dr Beth Mosely to take up the role based at Thurston earlier this year, after approaching NSFT to ask how mental health support could best be offered to its 1,750 students. Although some schools in England do have some psychological support hours on offer, Thurston is one of the very few to invest in a full time psychologist.
The role not only offers direct face to face sessions to students, but also offers support to teachers and other staff within the College in identifying issues as well as advice on how to best help a young person with mental health concerns.
Helen Wilson, Principal at Thurston Community College, said: “We are proud to be a school which is at the forefront of providing mental health support to our students in this way, and I would love to see more schools able to do this.”
“In the five months since Dr Mosley joined us, I’m convinced that we have already made a difference to the lives of our students. My colleagues certainly feel more aware of the issues and signs that a problem may be emerging, and are more confident in dealing with the students who may need additional mental health support. Of course, they can also refer our young people to Beth for extra expertise when needed.”
Miss Wilson said that Thurston Community College did not necessarily have any more or any less mental health problems among its student body than you would see in any average high school.
“But I believe we all have a responsibility to support our students in every way we can. Taking care of mental wellbeing is an essential feature of supporting our students to make the most of every learning opportunity, so they leave Thurston Community College with self-belief and aspiration to accomplish their dreams.”
“We understand that more and more young people are dealing with mental health issues due to a myriad of social pressures, some of which can be in more sharp focus when they are within a school environment among their peers.
“We want to encourage our students to feel comfortable about opening up and believe very strongly that this culture of openness helps with their educational success, as well as offering young people a much greater chance of leading a fulfilled life as a successful adult,” she added. Nationally, there has been a sharp rise in reported levels of anxiety and stress in school aged children and there is an estimated three children in every classroom that has an active mental health condition. One in four school aged children is experiencing emotional distress at any time, rates of self-harm are increasing and both locally and nationally referrals to services for eating disorders is seeing a year-on-year increase.
Dr Mosley explained that these figures can be due to a range of issues facing young people from exam pressures to cyber-bullying, issues with self-esteem and body image, or worries about finding a job when they finish their education.
Bringing many years of experience of working in children’s mental health, she is employed by NSFT, and her role is funded by the college. She has been developing a whole College approach to mental health and emotional wellbeing at Thurston Community College.
“School is often the hub of a child’s life and for those growing up in chaotic families, school can be the only safe, consistent place,” she said. “We therefore have a golden opportunity to support young people to develop resilience and emotional literacy. If all schools invested in this approach, imagine the impact.
“By creating an environment where staff are aware of the risk factors for young people developing mental health difficulties and have the confidence to respond appropriately, we are boosting the protective factors that will lead to better outcomes for these children.
“As individuals, to be able to survive and thrive we have to recognise problems and develop simple solutions that are easy to put in place to help us deal with things. What better environment to start to make people aware of the potential problems and to begin to learn how to deal with them in a positive way than within a school?”
Nicki Bramford, a Deputy Service Manager within NSFT’s Children’s, Families and Young People’s services, said: “NSFT is committed to doing everything it can to support young people and to help safeguard their mental wellbeing so that they can enjoy a better quality of life.
“We are working with several schools across Norfolk and Suffolk on a range of innovative projects to help us achieve this and I am delighted that Thurston is leading the way by employing Beth. She will work closely with both pupils and staff to safeguard their mental health and offer additional help, or signposting to NSFT’s other services, wherever necessary.
“Encouraging students to talk openly about mental health is vital and will make sure they feel comfortable if they do ever need extra support.”