School mental health policy - A guide for UK schools
The latest data shows that one in six children and young people aged five to 16 has a potential mental health problem. Five years ago, the number was just one in nine.
As mental health issues become more prevalent across the UK, more schools are looking for ways to support pupils and school staff, identify signs of poor mental wellbeing, and teach others how to address mental health needs appropriately.
A well-written, comprehensive school mental health policy is one of the most effective tools for managing and improving school mental health.
This guide explains a school mental health policy, how it differs from a wellbeing policy, and what information schools should include in these documents.
What is a school mental health policy?
A school mental health policy is a set of guidelines that discuss specific ways that people within a school community can contribute to positive mental health among pupils, teachers, administrators, parents, and carers.
Why are mental health policies important?
Mental health policies demonstrate to everyone involved in the school system that mental health and emotional wellbeing matter. The following are some specific benefits schools can experience when they create and implement mental health policies:
Identify warning signs of poor mental health
Provide a list of resources, so people know where to turn for support
Provide specific protocols and procedures to follow to empower staff, administrators, teachers, and parents if they notice signs of mental health issues
Promote positive mental health by creating a school environment that has a positive attitude and approach to mental wellbeing
Improve children and young people's academic performance
Improve relationships between pupils and staff, as well as staff and parents and staff and administrators
School mental health policies also help to remove the stigma surrounding mental ill health. Removing stigma, in turn, increases the likelihood that people will A) seek support when they need it and B) know where to look for help.
Primary school mental health policy
92% of primary school teachers in England believe primary schools play a crucial role in identifying pupils with mental health issues.
A primary school mental health policy explicitly takes into account mental health challenges that affect young children (ages 4 to 10). These policies also factor in the importance of identifying mental health issues early.
Research conducted by the Anna Freud National Centre for Children and Families notes that 92 per cent of primary school teachers in England believe primary schools play a crucial role in identifying pupils with mental health issues. The earlier children are diagnosed and receive support, the more likely they will experience a higher quality of life when they get older.
Secondary school mental health policy
A secondary school mental health policy builds upon the principles introduced in a primary school mental health policy. The guidance may focus on additional mental health challenges that are more likely to affect young people in education from ages 11 to 16, such as anti-bullying messages and the consequences of spending too much time on social media.
Do schools have to have a mental health policy?
Schools in the UK are not legally required to have mental health policies. However, they must abide by the guidelines laid out in the Equality Act 2010.
This legislation states that mental health conditions that adversely affect one’s behaviour are considered disabilities. Therefore, schools must provide adequate support for students who are not mentally healthy, as they would for students with other disabilities.
Student mental health policy
Whether the policy is geared toward primary or secondary school students, a student mental health policy should focus on issues affecting young people.
A student policy should include resources for the adults responsible for pupils to help them identify poor wellbeing and mental health. It should also support students by having guidelines on how to adequately address mental health challenges.
Mental health policy for school staff
The mental health of teachers, administrators, and other school staff members also matters. If adults aren’t mentally healthy, it’s harder for them to support pupils’ mental health.
A mental health policy for staff should include warning signs that are more common in adults. It should also provide a list of resources for adults who need mental health support to get help as soon as possible.
What is a whole school mental health policy?
When everyone has access to mental health resources and support, the entire school thrives, from pupils to administrators.
A whole school mental health policy considers everyone’s mental health and wellbeing. When everyone has access to mental health resources and support, the entire school thrives, from pupils to administrators to parents.
What should a mental health policy include?
A school mental health policy should include the following pieces of information:
Introduction: Discuss the school’s commitment to pupil, teacher, staff, and parent mental health
Statement of intent: Share objectives the school hopes to achieve by introducing and enforcing a mental health policy
Responsibilities: Specify each person’s duties (administrators, teachers, staff, parents, students) related to whole school mental health
Definition of terms: Explain critical terms like “mental health,” “wellbeing,” “emotional health,” etc.
Warning signs: List warnings signs of poor mental health for which administrators, staff, teachers, and parents should watch
Protocols: Determine steps that one should take if they notice signs of poor mental health; share instructions about communicating effectively and appropriately with students, parents, teachers, etc.
Confidentiality: Explain the school’s confidentiality policies and explain the differences between approaches for pupils and adults
Resources: Include a list of resources for administrators, staff, teachers, and parents to reference when helping those in need of mental health support
A school mental health policy should also include contact information (email address, phone number, etc.) for the school’s mental health lead — i.e., the person in charge of creating and enforcing the school mental health policy.
Example of a school mental health policy
Coming soon: A sample policy you can use when creating one for your school.
Is a mental health policy different from a wellbeing policy?
School mental health policies focus exclusively on mental health, whereas school wellbeing policies factor in other health and wellbeing aspects, such as physical and social health.
A mental health policy is similar, but not identical, to a school wellbeing policy. School mental health policies focus exclusively on mental health, whereas school wellbeing policies factor in other health and wellbeing aspects, such as physical and social health.
Positive mental health matters - so measure pupil mental health and wellbeing with Wellbeing Tracker
How can you tell if your school mental health policy is working? Use Satchel Pulse’s new Wellbeing Tracker to distribute and collect surveys on pupil, teacher, and parent mental health.