Siobhan Collingwood is the Head Teacher at Morecambe Bay Community Primary School and sits on the transformation panel for Lancashire and Morecambe schools. Siobhan has helped transform the region by instigating Youth Mental Health First Aid (MHFA) training across the area in both secondary and primary schools. Here she explains why she believes the training is so important for the support of young people and how she has put her own Youth MHFA training into practice.

At Morecambe Bay Community Primary School, we believe that in order to take a holistic view of educating a child, we must place wellbeing front and centre of everything we do.

As a school in a coastal area we face a number of challenges that impact the high number of pupils we have with mental and emotional concerns. With the local economy in decline, multi-tenancy housing, and an uplift in the use of food banks, the result is often families in crisis. All these issues can have a negative impact on the mental wellbeing of our pupils and, by extension, their ability to function and learn to the best of their ability.

We have a values-based system within the school which helps the children to develop positive skills and strengths like resilience, effort and happiness. These core values, rooted in wellbeing, are integrated into all lessons, rewarded in assemblies and communicated to parents. The pupils can speak and understand that language – what it means to be resilient as a learner, to be independent and helpful, and they know what we expect from them from nursery age all the way through to year six.

Having undertaken the half-day MHFA England training myself, we took the decision to bolster our wellbeing agenda through introducing a Mental Health Champion, trained in the One Day Youth MHFA course. MHFA offers an uncomplicated look at mental health which helps to destigmatise the issue and demystify the treatment of mental health.

We wanted to train an identifiable Mental Health Champion whom pupils and staff alike could approach with any concerns. At Morecambe Bay Community Primary School, our Mental Health Champion also shared their key learnings and access to the MHFA materials with colleagues – improving staff mental health literacy across the board.

We’ve found MHFA gives Mental Health Champions more confidence in offering support. It reassured us that we do not have to make a diagnosis or offer a cure, but we are better equipped to identify an issue, deal with any immediate situation, and pass on concerns to the appropriate service. Feeling better-informed offers security of mind and an assurance in your actions, ensuring support is offered more swiftly when needed. MHFA England training arms us with the confidence to roll up our sleeves and undertake early intervention if a pupil is experiencing a mental health issue – just like a physical first aider would.

For example, I used my MHFA England training with a young pupil who was describing their symptoms which I was able to recognise as panic attacks and depressions from referring to the MHFA literature. My training meant I had the knowledge and confidence to be able to discuss the issues with them.

I believe it would be incredibly useful to learn these core skills as part of all Initial Teacher Training (ITT). Any new teacher is likely to face mental health issues in their classroom, therefore it’s essential they have the tools needed to enhance and address pupil wellbeing. In this way MHFA does not add to teacher workload but rather enhances their skillset and enables them to perform their role more efficiently.

Across Lancashire and Morecambe, we are now training over 150 people from all statutory and voluntary sectors, including every school and college, as Mental Health Champions. For World Mental Health Day last year, we hosted a huge conference on Adverse Childhood Experiences (AECs) for nearly 200 attendees from the same Champions Network. It’s fair to say this has kept us busy, but this is something we feel is necessary as part of our job. As educators, if we want children to achieve academically they also need to be in a good place emotionally and mentally – it’s our responsibility to address both.

Siobhan took the Youth MHFA One Day course to train as a Youth MHFA Champion.

You can read more of Siobhan’s writing on mental health in schools on the Times Education Supplement website.