01 February, 2022

Call put out to introduce mental health supports at primary school level

St Patrick’s Mental Health Services (SPMHS) and the National Parents Council Primary (NPC) are issuing a timely call for primary schools-based mental health supports.

The call for the development and introduction of additional primary schools-based mental health supports comes at a time when schoolchildren are emerging from an incredibly challenging and uncertain period.

20% of parents of primary school-aged children sought some form of mental health support for their child over the last two years.

Through the introduction of schools-based mental health supports at primary level, there is an opportunity to strengthen and protect the mental wellbeing of children, while also supporting their parents and teachers. It could also see a reduction in the number of children requiring specialist mental health treatment.

An online event on 1 February explored how a primary schools-based mental health support service is being rolled out in the United Kingdom (UK). This could offer a model through which primary school students in Ireland could receive the mental health awareness and support they need. A similar service is currently being piloted in a primary school in Limerick, indicating positive outcomes.  

Protecting child mental health

Protecting child mental health

The call from the NPC and us here at SPMHS aligns with the commitment outlined by Government in its mental health policy, Sharing the Vision, to schools and centres of education in Ireland to have started a Wellbeing Promotion Process by 2023.

Áine Lynch is Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of the NPC, which is the representative organisation for parents of children in primary or early education. She said “research conducted by the NPC and Walk in My Shoes (WIMS) last year demonstrates the need for mental health supports for children of primary school age, with 20% of parents of primary school children surveyed having sought support for their children’s mental health during the pandemic. Today’s event, co-hosted by the NPC and SPMHS, is an opportunity to consider and explore the possible pathways for the implementation of primary schools-based mental health supports in order to meet the mental health needs of these young people.”

Paul Gilligan, our CEO here at SPMHS, said: “Young people have shown incredible resilience over the past two years as they have adapted to the public health emergency. However, as evidenced across multiple research studies, there remains a significant requirement for additional mental health supports for this cohort. As we emerge from the pandemic restrictions, with a heightened focus on the mental health of our young people, it is timely to explore the different mechanisms by which we can further support, protect and enhance children’s mental health at a community level.”

He added,

“We know, from the high levels of interaction and engagement with our flagship WIMS campaign, teachers and schools are dedicated to promoting positive mental health among their students, and there is a significant demand for mental health supports and resources. The development and introduction of a school-based mental health service presents a real and significant opportunity to support schools, teachers and parents in the promotion and protection of young people’s mental health.”

Enhancing mental health supports

Enhancing mental health supports

Other organisations in the mental health and education sectors support this call, including the Irish National Teachers’ Organisation (INTO), the Irish Primary Principals’ Network (IPPN) and Mental Health Reform.

John Boyle, General Secretary of the INTO, said, “The INTO warmly welcomes the call from the NPC and SPMHS. The proposed pilot Mental Health Support Team initiative is a practical and timely proposal, and an important initial step towards establishing a much-needed national primary schools mental health service.”

CEO of the IPPN, Pairic Clerkin, explained, “The IPPN, through its work with the Wellbeing For All (WFA) group, is supportive of the recommendation to provide therapeutic services in schools for children and the supports for their parents and school staff. This initiative could make a real difference to wellness in school communities and address the difficulty of accessing essential and timely intervention for children at the earliest possible opportunity.”

Fiona Coyle, CEO of Mental Health Reform, also said “Mental Health Reform welcomes this call for additional primary schools-based mental health supports. This initiative highlights the importance of investing in youth mental health to enhance mental health outcomes for children and young people. Given the increasing demand for primary and secondary mental health services, it is critical that community and school-based care for children is adequately resourced. Sharing the Vision recommends a cross-departmental approach; therefore, the Department of Education will have an essential role to play in the delivery of mental health supports in educational settings.”

More on child mental health

Research by our WIMS campaign and the NPC in 2021 found that 55% of parents to mostly primary school-age children have concerns about the long-term impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on their child’s mental health.

Read the full research 

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