Mental health developments


Date: 31st Aug 2016

A new MSc Mental Health and Well-being in Education at Bucks will provide new ways for teachers to focus on students' mental health wellbeing. Dr Piers Worth, Reader in Psychology, explains why the course, recruiting from September 2017, can provide a valuable new avenue of learning.

"Two-thirds of head teachers are more concerned about pupils' mental health than any other issue according to a survey of school leaders by The Key last year.

Add to this that 75 per cent of psychological disorder originates before the end of higher education and it's clear to see that mental health and well-being is an important issue for young people and their teachers.

Huge demands

And yet there are huge demands on mental health services, with long waiting lists common, and these pressures look set to continue. Figures from the regulator, NHS Improvement, showed that NHS trusts were £2.2bn in the red in December with that figure expected to have since risen.

Educators are right to place mental health high on their agendas. Changes to the Ofsted common inspection framework now include reference to students' emotional and mental health and well-being. The Health and Social Care Bill, which became law in the last parliament, included a demand for parity of esteem meaning mental and physical health services should be treated equally.

We must recognise that the education setting is an increasingly challenging environment for those who inhabit it: students, teachers and leaders alike. Understandably, those professionals who interact in the education sphere - including social workers, school nurses, educational psychologists, youth justice and the police - also have an important influence and role to play in tackling children's mental health issues. However, they are not mental health professionals, and nor should one expect them to be.

My experiences as a psychologist and those of my colleague Colin Martin, Professor of Mental Health at Buckinghamshire New University, (pictured) show that small changes can make big differences.

MSc Mental Health and Well-being in Education

We have worked together to create a new MSc Mental Health and Well-being in Education at Bucks to give those working in the education sector insights to explore new thinking, research-based choices and to develop their own solutions. We were inspired to create the course because the current climate in education is one where people may feel often overwhelmed, disempowered and frightened.

The first year of our new Masters course examines the backdrop to life span developmental psychology and how it sits in education at any age. A child's or a student's supposed 'problems' exist in a system and we will encourage our course students to look at their context and think about what well-being means. In the second year, course students will learn how to make and support change, with an emphasis on positive psychology and cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT). Exploring their range of choices to help young people will form the basis of a research project dissertation directly linked to their own challenges and priorities.

We believe that all places of education can strive to be psychologically healthy and it may not be a question of money to achieve their goal. In reality, small changes in approach may change the entire atmosphere in a school or other educational context and the well-being of its pupils. We know from our experience that focusing on someone's strengths and what they love, and reflects the best, in them has a transformative effect on their reaction and behaviours.

Bryony Shaw

An excellent example comes from Bryony Shaw, a graduate of the Master's in Applied Positive Psychology at Bucks New University, who teaches at a college for 16 to 18-year-olds. Bryony has designed and implemented short programmes, based on scientific research, which focus on promoting and developing the resilience of her students.

Bryony has also introduced students to mindfulness strategies that they can use to improve their well-being. Research has shown that this can make a huge difference to young people at an important time in their development and education. Taking a holistic approach to education such as this, benefits student's mental health and identifies potential issues before they become bigger problems.

It's important to accept that our course students, and indeed all those working in education, are on different journeys. There is no 'one size fits all' approach. However if people have the confidence to develop their own responses it can make a significant impact on those who may be struggling.

People working in education are told stories that scare them and often they do not know what to do. If they can become flexible in helping their students and themselves find a different choice it can only lead to more positive outcomes.

There are ways to bring about top-down and bottom-up improvements in educational settings, and foster healthy environments in which everyone can thrive. That does not mean training an army of psychologists. Everyone who works in education has the power to have an influence and make a real difference to the mental health and well-being of young people."

Dr Piers Worth is Reader in Psychology at Buckinghamshire New University. The factors discussed here are examined in the book 'Mental Health and Well-being in the Learning and Teaching Environment', co-edited by Professor Colin Martin.

For details on the MSc Mental Health and Well-being in Education email

Third picture caption: Colin Martin, Professor of Mental Health, speaks at Edinburgh Napier University at a launch of his co-edited book Mental Health and Wellbeing in the Learning and Teaching Environment.


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