The most northerly EIS Professional Learning Course of autumn 2019 turned out to also be one of the most popular in the highlands. Teachers and FE lecturers from all over Scotland gathered at North Highland College in Thurso for a 1-day course to develop awareness of young people’s mental health, bringing with them a wide variety of experiences and ideas about how to support their students.

This course was delivered free to EIS members by North Highland College UHI, and supported by Scottish Union Learning.

Members talked about how they saw young people struggling with poor mental health in schools and colleges every day, and that teachers often find themselves acting as front-line support in places where specialist services are hard to access. Attendees also noted that the highlands comes with particular challenges around addressing mental health, as borne out by the high rate of suicide amongst young men in the region, and the profound lack of understanding and support in deprived rural areas.

The day included exploring definitions of ‘mental health’, understanding specific mental health needs, and discussing how normal adolescent development and school experiences can create challenges for maintaining good mental health. Participants also learned about the ways in which poor mental health impacts on learning and opportunities for young people, reflecting on ‘maladaptive stress responses’ and negative coping mechanisms which can have lasting impacts on young people’s personal growth and social inclusion.

Members finished the day by considering what actions they could take in their school, or changes they can make to their existing practice which can support positive mental health for young people in their context. This included using some of the practical tools and techniques which were introduced during the training, and employing resources or approaches from external services.

What did EIS members say about this course?

"It was reassuring to engage with fellow professionals who want to improve outcomes for young people’s mental health."

"This course included useful, practical information and strategies to use with pupils – and for myself!"

"I am rethinking my approach to pupil behaviour management. I normally focus on behaviour issues rather than the reasons for behaviour, and now realise that this is not effective. Indeed I now realise why this is not effective."

What where the Key Learning Points from this course?

  • Some young people will suffer from diagnosable mental health disorders, but all young people can struggle with mental health. Normal adolescent development includes some behaviours or challenges which are in common with mental health difficulties, so strategies to support good mental health are important for everyone.
  • Supporting young people’s mental health is about empowering them to maximise their self-support, overcome their challenges and realise their potential. Awareness of mental health challenges allows teachers to guide young people towards practical ways they can self-manage their needs to  engage with learning and thrive in the school community.
  • Teachers should remember the limitations of their role. Classroom-level strategies for supporting young people are extremely valuable and can make a big impact, but there are also expert services tailored for young people which can provide further support and inform a whole-school approach.

Where can I find out more about this topic specific to the Highlands?

Child and Adolescent Mental Health Service (CAMHS), part of NHS Highland, is the local specialist service supporting young people with emotional, behavioural and mental health difficulties in the region.

Action for Children’s Blues Programme funded by Royal Mail, is an internationally acclaimed evidence based “blues busting” course for teenagers 13-19 which aims to reduce the signs of adolescent low mood and negative thoughts and promote prevention.

The Decider Life Skills is an organisation providing self-support and teacher-support materials for developing good mental health practices in the classroom and beyond, including many resources which were demonstrated during this course.