Pupils 'suffering in silence' with mental health issues, University of Northampton expert warns

Dr Tania Hart, lecturer in mental health nursing at the University of Northampton
Dr Tania Hart, lecturer in mental health nursing at the University of Northampton

Schools must put the mental health of their pupils at the top of their agenda, a lecturer at the University of Northampton said in a new report for the Government.

Dr Tania Hart, who specialises in mental health nursing, says pupils are suffering in silence and has issued a series of recommendations to help schools offer better support.

The report - which has been accepted and published by the Parliamentary Health Select Committee - forms part of the findings from her recently completed PhD study. Dr Hart’s research centres on the educational needs of school children experiencing mental health problems and emotional distress who, for complex reasons, often remain silent about their difficulties in the classroom and avoid seeking support.

Dr Hart said: “There are many barriers in a school environment which make these children feel isolated and excluded – for example stigma, and a limited mental health understanding from their teachers. These children are more susceptible to bullying and peer conflict. My findings have a key message; that these children do not want to stand out from the crowd or feel different from their peers.”

The report recommends a ‘whole school’ approach to mental health, where a school works to educate both pupils and staff about recognising mental health issues. She also urges Government policy makers to place an emphasis on improving teacher awareness of mental health, especially during teacher training.

“Schools need to put emotional security on their agenda,” Dr Hart added. “Every school must first create a caring and empathic, non-discriminative culture, which is aware of the importance of good mental health. Emphasis can then be placed on building stronger teacher-pupil relationships; once young people feel more emotionally and socially connected to their teachers, they will feel more able to divulge their difficulties and seek support.”