Mental health first aid for schools

Author: Phil Bridges
Published: 04/02/2020


Facts about mental health and young people

There are some alarming statistics recently regarding young people and mental health. 1 in 10 primary school children say they suffer from a low sense of wellbeing.10% of children and young people (aged 5–16 years) have a clinically diagnosable mental health issue. 50% of mental health issues develop by age 14. And most worrying of all is that suicide is the most common cause of death for people aged 5–19 in England and Wales (both boys and girls). 

Mental health issues are common and often start at a young age. Peer pressure, social media, bullying, exams, family units breaking down and an increased number of children in the care system have all been presented in research as contributing factors to a rise in mental health issues in younger people. According to the Partnership for Wellbeing and Mental Health in Schools (2015), it is vital that schools take a role in helping to detect mental illnesses. That’s where Mental Health First Aid training comes in.

Youth Mental Health First Aid courses are designed to equip you with the skills and confidence to spot signs and symptoms of mental health issues, plus the knowledge and confidence to help. Through a variety of discussions, presentations and activities, the course covers four key topics:

  • what is mental health?
  • depression and anxiety
  • suicide and psychosis
  • self-harm and eating disorders.

For more information, see the Mental Health First Aid England youth webpages.

Identifying the signs

Here are some possible signs that a young person may be experiencing a mental health issue:

  • unexplained aches and pains
  • alcohol and/or drug misuse
  • lack of personal hygiene
  • incoherent speech
  • silent, withdrawn or distracted
  • tearful
  • sleep problems; tired all the time
  • erratic timekeeping
  • disruptive or aggressive behaviour
  • overworking
  • unable to concentrate, memory loss
  • changes in appetite
  • drop in academic performance
  • poor attendance.

How can you address mental health issues with your students?

One way to reduce the stigma associated with mental health is by getting young people’s heroes to talk about how they stay mentally well. From singers to footballers, The Mind Map has uncovered the wellbeing habits of over 100 public figures in the worlds of culture and sport since March 2018. Young people knowing it’s ok to not be ok and knowing that everyone has mental health, good or bad, will increase the chances of them talking about how they feel, free of shame.

Evidence shows that the only effective long-term way to improve mental health outcomes is to adopt a ‘whole-organisation approach’. This is where all parts of the organisation are encouraged to work together towards a culture of wellbeing. Training staff at all levels is the most effective way to safeguard young people and foster whole-organisation wellbeing.

Evidence from Public Health England (2014) confirms that children with superior wellbeing and decreased levels of mental health issues achieve higher grades, better examination results, attendance, and drop out less often. In fact, academic achievement is more accurately predicted by social and emotional skills than by IQ. The quality of PSHE in a school also correlates strongly with the school’s overall effectiveness. 


Public Health England (2014) ‘The link between pupil health and wellbeing and attainment’

Public Health England (2017) Health Profile for England.

Green, H., McGinnity, Á., Meltzer, H., Ford, T., Goodman, R. (2004) Mental health of children and young people in Great Britain.

Kessler, R. C. (2005) Lifetime Prevalence and Age-of-Onset Distributions of DSM-IV Disorders.

Young Minds (2017) Wise Up – Prioritising wellbeing in schools.

The Children's Society and the University of York (2013) The Good Childhood Report


Phil Bridges

Phil Bridges is a Youth Mental Health First Aid instructor, journalist and founder of, an organisation which seeks to raise awareness of youth mental health.