Every new teacher will be trained how to spot the signs of mental health issues, under a new prevention plan unveiled by the Prime Minister today.

Theresa May has pledged better access to education, training and support across communities as part of an overhaul of society’s approach to mental illness.

The measures aim to give people the confidence and skills they need to identify mental health issues before they become critical, particularly in young people.

Chief Executive of Mental Health First Aid (MHFA) England, Simon Blake OBE, commented:

"We welcome the spotlight that the Prime Minister is putting on the importance of preventative measures and early intervention for mental health issues.

"Prevention is always better than cure. By equipping teachers, health and social care staff, and other frontline workers with the tools to spot the early signs of mental health issues it means that as a community we can better protect our mental health, and particularly look out for young people.

"We've worked with thousands of schools to train teachers in Youth Mental Health First Aid and we know the real difference it can make - we saw an increase in both confidence and knowledge in identifying mental health issues in secondary school aged children.

"Mental health needs adequate provision and support at all stages of our lives. Therefore we think the government needs to go a step further and update the Health and Safety at Work regulations so that there is equality around first aid provision. Ensuring every workplace has people trained in mental health first aid is essential to ensure people access the right support at the right time which can help to prevent issues before they start."

According to the plan schools, social workers, local authorities and healthcare services will receive extra support to help promote good mental health in the same way that they look after physical wellbeing. These measures include:

  • Training for all new teachers on how to spot the signs of mental health issues, backed up by updated statutory guidance to make clear schools’ responsibilities to protect children’s mental wellbeing
  • All 1.2 million NHS staff encouraged to take suicide prevention training from the Zero Suicide Alliance, which we have already committed to support with £2 million of government investment
  • Support for school mental health leads so they can help children struggling with self-harm and risk of suicide 
  • Access to world-class teaching and training materials for all teachers to use in classrooms to meet the new requirements for mental health education for all primary and secondary pupils
  • Extra funding to support local authorities to strengthen and deliver local suicide prevention plans so that they better meet the needs of the people they serve
  • Updated professional standards for social workers across England to increase their knowledge and skills when helping those with mental health issues.

Also launching in October is the Every Mind Matters campaign, a further initiative to raise public awareness around looking after your mental health with content informed by MHFA England.

From 2020 parents will also get access through the campaign to targeted advice on how to deal with issues like stress, online bullying and self-harm.

Vulnerable people are known to be at greater risk of mental illness, including those who face financial difficulties such as problem debt. Government will launch a new breathing space scheme to provide respite from debt collection while people seek support to help prevent the onset of mental health problems - with special access for those receiving crisis treatment.

As part of this prevention agenda, the Prime Minister has also announced:

  • £1 million to the Office of Students for a competition to find innovative new ways to support mental health at universities and colleges
  • Research following the government’s Children in Need review to build new evidence on the best ways to support children who have faced adversity, abuse and neglect
  • Greater transparency in how money is spent on mental health services, with a commitment to independent audits to ensure that the funding committed under the NHS Long-Term plan reaches the front line
  • Support given to new parents from health visitors and other professionals will be modernised to better support their babies’ behavioural and emotional development.

Today’s package of changes will also fast track action against undignified and unequal treatment for those in mental crisis – including by committing to overhaul the Mental Health Act to make it fit for modern society.

This legislation will include banning once and for all the use of police cells as a place to detain people experiencing mental illness, following the Prime Minister’s work to stamp out this practice in the treatment of under 18s.

Today she has also confirmed that a White Paper will be published before the end of the year in response to Sir Simon Wessely’s review of the Mental Health Act, setting out the steps taken to tackle unequal treatment faced by ethnic minority groups.

The new measures launched today will build on the largest expansion of mental health services in a generation under the NHS Long-Term Plan.