Review is step towards better mental health education

25th January 2019

By Chloe Livey, Campaigns Officer

This week the Scottish Government published the results and recommendations from their PSE (Personal and Social Education) review, with a Ministerial Statement from Education Secretary John Swinney.

The report calls for a more consistent approach to PSE, with 16 recommendations which have all been accepted by the government.

For some time now, SAMH has been campaigning on children and young people’s mental health, so that young people grow up able to spot the signs,  ask for and receive help.  So we’re pleased to see the review recognise that health and wellbeing is still too often viewed as a lesser element of the curriculum, with pupils often removed for other activities. We hope that the review will play a part in changing this.

Mental health education is of course partly about building resilience – developing coping strategies for when life gets tough; and self-care – recognising what makes us feel good and stay well. But sometimes life throws us things we can’t deal with alone, and we need some help.

The Ministerial announcement included a commitment to provide guidance and support to schools on the range of mental health and wellbeing services available.  But it’s not enough just to signpost - it’s crucial that when young people ask for help that this support exists, is appropriate, and is easily accessible.

Young people spend a huge proportion of their lives at school. School-based counselling allows them the opportunity to access help in a non-medical setting which they are familiar with, with minimal disruption to their education. It isn’t the answer for everyone – no mental health solution is – but young people have told us that they would like to see this as an option. And evidence from the rest of the UK tells us it works.

In the 2018/19 Programme for Government, the Scottish Government committed to investing in school-based counselling. We need to ensure that pupils have equal access to this service, and that it’s of a consistent quality across the country. School-based counselling is something we’ve been campaigning for over the past couple of years, so we were delighted to hear John Swinney confirm during his statement that the first batch of counsellors will be in place during the next year. 

It’s also crucial that we see evidence of action against the recommendations of the review. So we welcome the setting up of a PSE Delivery and Implementation Group, which will do just that – monitor progress against the recommendations. This group will include the Scottish Government, local government, teacher unions and third sector (charity) organisations.

Finally, the review highlighted the importance of teachers having the resources and training necessary to allow them to deliver PSE effectively. As part of a whole-school approach to mental health, this is vital. Teachers must feel confident and able to talk comfortably about mental health, and to respond to a pupil who is struggling with their mental health. Which is why we’ve also been campaigning for the introduction of mental health training for not just teachers, but for all school staff.

The PSE review is a welcome step towards mental health and wellbeing achieving parity of esteem with numeracy and literacy, and we look forward to seeing the recommendations in action, as part of a robust whole-school approach to mental health.