How To Discuss Your Child’s Mental Health At School

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Now that children have been back at school for a couple of weeks, parents may wonder how to approach teachers about their child’s mental health. Schools are required to support young learners with challenges that could be a barrier to education and to work alongside the family to identify and provide the appropriate assistance.

Mental Health in Schools

Statistics and studies show that more young people are struggling with mental health issues than ever before. A survey from the National Education Union in the United Kingdom found that almost half of secondary school staff reported that students had been actively suicidal because of the stress they were under, with the most significant sources including tests and exams, as well as pressure from schools to perform well. 

Excessive stress and mental health disorders affect how young adults perform in the classroom, but with appropriate help and support, the negative impacts of mental health conditions can be minimised. 

Working With Schools

Schools have a duty of care towards all of their students and will want to help them with any problems that arise. However, even with a greater emphasis on mental health, some schools may not understand exactly what your young person needs to support them the most. 

Teachers need to understand your child’s difficulties to be as helpful as possible. It may feel a little uncomfortable to share some aspects of your child’s behaviour or family history, but remember that teachers are there to do their best for every young learner. Understanding your child and family will help them to help you.

Find out how your school helps students work through the big feelings they might have, such as any counselling services provided.

It may be helpful to talk about trauma-focused care at your child’s school. If appropriate, explain your child’s diagnosis and treatment. It can also help to talk to your young person about the additional help they’ll get during school, using age-appropriate facts and clear explanations of big words or diagnoses. This will help them to accurately describe their situation to others and reduce stigmatising language, leaving them feeling empowered and part of their treatment journey.

Explain how your young person’s needs may affect the school day:

  • Could there be a need for time off school? 
  • Are there appointments to attend? 
  • Does your child need to attend therapy sessions during the day that may prevent them from returning to school? 
  • Might your young person arrive late because they need to have additional help with supported mealtimes? 
  • Are you concerned about high-energy activities or sports that may be counterproductive to structured eating disorder treatment?

If your child needs to attend residential treatment or requires hospital admission, talk to the school and include the treatment team in correspondence. The school may be able to provide topic work or even online access to education which will help your child feel connected as they progress in treatment. Your child’s mental health is the priority. School work, exams, and the return to education will follow.

Ask your school about the available resources at school or recommended by the school that may extend your support network. Consider questions such as:

  • Does the school have links with a child and adolescent psychiatrist who can visit? 
  • Are they able to offer term-time counselling and links to private therapists?
  • Do they have quiet spaces that young people can go to if they feel overwhelmed? 
  • Does the school utilise a pass card system to leave lessons with minimum disruption if they feel dysregulated? 
  • Is there a school policy on young people contacting parents during the day? 
  • Is your child allowed to carry additional snacks should they need them?

Talk with the teachers about how they will deal with any additional needs. Importantly, discuss whether they or your child will be given the opportunity to share these additional needs with the classroom or peer group if necessary. Discuss levels of confidentiality and the reasons the school may choose to share information with others.

Discussing any medication your child is prescribed can also be a big help and a weight off your shoulders as a parent. Ask the school about the procedure to bring medication into school and how it’s administered throughout the day. Often, medication is held with the school nurse and dispensed in the medical area. Find out how your child will be reminded to take their medication if they cannot always remember themselves. 

Remember not to leave your young person with medication in their bag or locker for the safety of themselves and others. Let the school know about any medication that may be given at home, whether prescription or over-the-counter. Sometimes people may feel a little more restless or lethargic after taking medication, and letting the school know will help them plan suitable activities or breaks around this.

Children and young people can experience emotional and behavioural difficulties in the classroom when big life events occur, there are significant changes to their routine, or there is unhappiness at home. If there are problems within the family, it takes courage to speak out and speak up; however, it is always in your young person’s best interest. If you are in a home with frequent volatility, unhappiness, arguments, violence or alcohol or substance use, talk to your school pastoral care team, the head of house or another team member that you feel comfortable with. 

Residential treatment may be better for young adults facing significant challenges. The Wave focuses on recovery before anything else, combining mental health and eating disorder treatment with education and learning opportunities when the time is right. We provide a safe space for young people to heal and learn with bespoke treatment, various personal development opportunities to choose from, and a strong focus on positive growth. 

Fiona - The Wave Clinic

Fiona Yassin is the founder and clinical director at The Wave Clinic. She is a U.K. and International registered Psychotherapist and Accredited Clinical Supervisor (U.K. and UNCG).

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