• By Laura Whybra
  • Posted on Friday 20th March, 2015

'Go-to' mental health training helps schools link students to the right kind of help

strong>Untreated mental health problems in youth can have damaging lifelong consequences. Training staff in schools to identify students with psychiatric disorders, offer support and connect them with specialist help has the potential to prevent the accumulation of long-term negative effects.Most mental disorders can be diagnosed before young people reach their mid-20s, so it is not surprising that schools are increasingly viewed as important locations where affected children can be linked to early support. But while school staff may understand the importance of dealing with students’ mental health concerns, research shows they often lack confidence, feeling unsure about recognizing priority cases or offering effective help.Strategic approachIn Canada, child and adolescent mental health experts have sought to bridge the gap with a one-day training program designed for the teachers and other school staff that students most often approach for advice. Known as “Go-to” Educator Training, it is part of an overall approach to bringing mental health professionals and educators closer together developed in Halifax, Nova Scotia called the School-Based Integrated Pathways to Care Model.‘Before’ and ‘after’ tests completed by 134 educators from 40 secondary schools participating in the “Go-to” Educator Training showed that it significantly (and substantially) improved their knowledge of different mental disorders, including symptoms, causes and assessment techniques, as well as the best ways of linking with health providers and families. Attitudes towards mental health became even more positive and participants felt more confident about their ability to respond to mental health issues.“Plausible” and “useful”Few will disagree with the researchers’ cautious conclusion that the results “indicate that such an approach may be plausible and useful in addressing youth mental health needs in the school settings across Canada and beyond.” However, it is important to acknowledge that the one-day training was delivered in a context where secondary school teachers in Nova Scotia had already been trained to use a ‘Mental Health and High School Curriculum Guide’ promoting mental health awareness as an integral part of the overall model being implemented. Inevitably, the effectiveness of training “go-to” teachers and other staff to facilitate early intervention will also depend on the relationship between schools and those providing child and adolescent mental health services, including the ease and speed with which services can be accessed.That said, the innovative approach taken by the Canadian researchers with essential support from their state education and health authorities is, internationally, one to watch. Rich opportunities now exist for trials to establish whether the school-based approach and the knowledge gained by educators really can improve mental health and other outcomes for young people.Preparing staff to broach the topic of mental health issues with students, helping them identify those at risk and knowing where to signpost them for help seems, meanwhile, like a good first step. ************Reference:Wei, Y. and Kutcher, S. (2014). Innovations in Practice: ‘Go-to’ Educator Training on the mental health competencies of educators in the secondary school setting: a program evaluation. Child and Adolescent Mental Health, 19 (3), 219-222. doi: 10.1111/camh.12056

Back to Archives