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We must foster a culture of support, understanding and intervention in schools


One of the most daunting challenges confronting any school leader is the sudden loss of a member of the school community. In such heart-wrenching circumstances, leaders are often left grappling with their own feelings of bereavement, as they manage the grief of staff, students and families.

NHS data has revealed an alarming increase of over 50% in mental health referrals since 2019-20, and sadly our community is far from immune. This is no doubt a reflection of the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic, compounded by the increased use of social media among teenagers. This unfettered access exposes students to perilous messaging by influencers promoting unrealistic and unattainable life standards.

Consequently, today’s youth are more vulnerable, increasingly reliant on peer validation, and susceptible to manipulation and oppression. This has resulted in a mental health crisis among our youth, evidenced by self-harm and eating disorders becoming distressingly commonplace.

Addressing this challenge has become paramount for schools, where child safeguarding is our foremost concern. It falls on every school to foster a safe environment for children, and ensuring they have the opportunity to voice their concerns to responsible adults. As part of its response, PaJeS has collaborated with Heads Up Kids to implement a curriculum that fosters resilience and equips younger children with the understanding of when to seek help and the knowledge of how to do so, when needed.

However, it is crucial to recognise that schools do not operate in isolation. It is only through collective efforts of all stakeholders that we can effectively protect our children. Parents and carers, as the closest observers, are best positioned to detect any changes in their child’s behaviour. Young people need an emotionally available adult to talk through some of the messaging that they will see on social media and for guidance in navigating and understanding the online world. Any serious concerns should always be shared with the school, and where necessary, parents and carers should seek expert medical advice.

Friends can also play a crucial role in supporting one another, especially in the digital age where pressures online often go unnoticed by adults. Many schools run programmes for students explaining how to be a supportive friend without taking on an unreasonable level of responsibility.

Society needs to foster a culture of understanding and respect. This message must be reiterated from an early age by parents and teachers, and our behaviours must also emulate this belief. This is especially important when dealing with the silent bystanders who must be encouraged to stand up and call out when they see wrong. Given the difficult times we are currently facing, this would perhaps be a timely message for wider society.

Just as there are varying degrees of physical injury, mental health challenges demand a nuanced response. While some may require reassurance and resilience-building, and others may need school-based wellbeing support, some necessitate professional intervention. However, unlike physical injuries, mental health concerns often elude clear diagnosis, making intervention more complex.

Unfortunately, there is no easy fix to the crisis we face. It requires collective action and unwavering commitment to protecting our children. For years, PaJeS has spearheaded wellbeing projects in schools, and recent school awards have highlighted the progress made. However, schools cannot carry this burden alone. It is incumbent upon all of us to remain vigilant, listen attentively, and provide unwavering support to our children in their times of need.

In conclusion, the challenges surrounding mental health in schools are profound and multifaceted. While progress has been made, much work remains to be done. By fostering a culture of support, understanding, and intervention, we can create safer and healthier environments for our children to thrive. Only through collective effort and effective and timely communication can we hope to safeguard the wellbeing of our youth.

Rabbi David Meyer OBE is CEO of PaJeS

If you or someone you know is struggling with mental health challenges, there are resources available to provide support and assistance. Reach out to your GP, to family members or trusted members of the school community for guidance and support, or contact the many helplines and resources including:

Samaritans – Freephone 116 123

Papyrus 0800 0684141

Shout – Text 85258

Young Minds –

Jami – family and carer support –

Remember, you are not alone, and help is always available.

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