The majority of experienced teachers say they are not able to spot
early signs of mental illness in their pupils due to lack of training, new
research has found.
Even though an overwhelming majority of those surveyed acknowledged that
this is a vital part of their job, they are unable t More…o carry it out,
according to researchers at Edge Hill University.
The British Medical Association reports that 20 per cent of children and
teenagers experience a mental-health problem at some point. And problems
such as depression and self-harm are on the increase.
However, in the majority of cases, these problems remain undetected until
adulthood, leading to underachievement at school as well as drug abuse,
violence and disease.
The Edge Hill researchers said: "Since school teachers see their pupils on
a regular basis, they are seen as being ideally placed to spot early
The academics questioned trainee and experienced teachers from ten
secondaries in the Midlands and North West to determine how comfortable
they felt identifying and dealing with early indications of psychological
Half of the experienced teachers and almost two-thirds of the trainees
agreed that it was important that they were able to detect mental illness
among pupils. However, 57 per cent of experienced teachers and 49 per cent
of trainees did not feel confident to do so.
In fact, 69 per cent of experienced teachers said that they had received
no training in dealing with mental health problems.
Many respondents said they wanted mental health awareness to be included
in teacher training. But two-thirds of the experienced interviewees also
believed that refresher courses should be delivered throughout their
Teachers at all stages of their careers also wanted to see school-based
training sessions delivered to all members of teaching and non-teaching
They also felt it was important to choose carefully what kind of language
was used during training courses.
"Teachers are not comfortable using psychiatric terminology," the
researchers said. "(They) are experts in learning and class management, so
it is easier to talk about learning and behaviour problems than
They were also aware that there might be a stigma attached to mental
illness, and were anxious not to attach detrimental labels to pupils.
However, many of the interviewees felt that the opposite were actually
"Some disorders might actually be considered slightly fashionable at the
moment," the researchers said.
They cited the example of obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD): "Some young
people are happy to announce that they are 'a bit OCD' about
However, the new teachers in particular were anxious that teachers' job
description should not include the duties of mental health worker.
Many felt that their job was in danger of becoming "over-extended", a
prospect they found "scary".
They were also concerned that making a mistake or failing to spot a
problem might lead to a witch-hunt in which blame would be unfairly
In addition, the teachers acknowledged that not all their colleagues were
happy to deal with pastoral issues. "Some teachers think their role is
solely to deliver subject knowledge," the researchers said.
"A consistent theme ... was that teachers wanted to be able to spot the
signs, but see their main role as referral and not diagnosis."
FROM THE SURVEY
Left to a TA to deal with
A pupil with ADHD began having hallucinations and hearing voices. Few
staff in the school were equipped to deal with this. There was a rigid
behaviour policy, which caused problems when managing the pupil's
outbursts. Ultimately, responsibility for the child was left to a teaching
Trainee 'in at deep end'
A trainee teacher had no knowledge of the extent of self-harming among
pupils until he was forced to deal with a self-harming pupil. He had
received child-protection training but had no knowledge of how to deal
with mental health problems. He therefore felt "thrown in the deep end"
and was surprised to find that there was support available in school, from
the school nurse, a chaplain and the pastoral team.
'Odd' diagnosis caused delay
When a pupil developed depression, the initial symptoms were similar to
ADHD. As a result, teachers did not recognise the problem: one responded
aggressively; another described the boy as "odd". It was only after
reporting the problem to the school special-needs co-ordinator that the
teacher saw the need for swift professional intervention.