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Ask Andy – Blog 28

Overflowing with need – Further evidence that a nationwide proactive approach to mental health and wellbeing is needed.

Imagine you have a pint glass and half a pint of water in a bottle. It would be relatively straightforward to pour the half pint of water into a pint pot. However, pouring a pint of water into a pint pot would need real care and caution. In terms of support for the mental health of our young people at CAMHS, we are now at a point where we are trying to pour a pint and a half into a pint pot. As we know, CAMHS services nationwide are struggling to cope with the number of young people requiring assessment and support.

In March 2022, 90,789 young people were referred to Child & Adolescent Mental Health services – That’s the equivalent of a full Wembley Stadium of children struggling in just one month. This is the most since the measure first began being collected in January 2016 (NHS data)

What this means is that those not reaching the increasingly high threshold for CAMHS find themselves outside the pot with needs largely unmet. In one North West authority last year, there were 1000 youngsters with unmet need as CAMHS simply do not have the resources to support these young people.

The consequences for these youngsters, their long-term mental health and the country going forward is incalculable. I’m increasingly hearing of schools using what limited financial resource they have to support mental health in school, because schools understand that unless you meet that unmet need, learning will be impaired. This is the quandary schools find themselves in.

We have a model of “when something goes wrong, we have a service to fix it.” But if the services to help fix it aren’t there, schools have to step in because the core purpose of schools in terms of educating and developing the whole learner, can’t take place until the other services have done their bit. We know that learners suffering grief, stress and trauma are physiologically unable to learn and yet the services to support learners are increasingly unavailable. This affects areas of high disadvantage disproportionately and is part of the reason why children in areas of disadvantage often don’t make the progress expected.

So, if we’re not going to create the capacity to meet the need that we currently face, we need to reduce the numbers of learners needing intervention. The way to do that is to build a whole school wellbeing approach which proactively supports the mental health and wellbeing of staff and students. If this is embedded in our day-to-day we can drastically reduce the numbers needing clinical intervention.

At Schools Advisory Service, our proactive approach is not only supporting staff who would otherwise have been off work, with support in the workplace but we have strategies to support the mental health and wellbeing of learners in school too. These strategies have been tried and tested in schools located in severely disadvantaged areas and have seen schools move from RI to outstanding.

My experience is that there doesn’t need to be a reductive choice between wellbeing and Ofsted. Building a whole school wellbeing focused approach proactively supports pupil mental health and wellbeing, which has the learners in a better place to learn, which improves outcomes.

Many schools have already started to work on this and the resources and support are available for those who have purchased a SAS staff absence solution.

If you’d like to know more about this, then please do contact me at andy.mellor@uk-sas.co.uk

Whilst constantly trying to cram and increasingly large volume into a pint pot is never going to work, what will work is meeting the mental health and wellbeing needs of learners day to day which will in turn reduce the volume to be pushed into the pint pot.

Ask Andy

If you have questions about wellbeing practice, would like to suggest future content for Andy's blogs or if you are having success with wellbeing culture in your school and would like to share your story, please complete the form below.