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‘What price do we have to pay?’ - Call to arms to secure better mental health help for pupils as problems soar

PUBLISHED: 21:19 16 February 2017 | UPDATED: 21:20 16 February 2017

Stuart Rimmer, principal at Great Yarmouth College. Picture: Submitted

Stuart Rimmer, principal at Great Yarmouth College. Picture: Submitted


A college principal has issued a desperate call for school leaders to tackle mental health problems - as he revealed a 156pc rise in referrals in just one year.

City College Norwich, principal Corrienne Peasgood.  PHOTO: Nick ButcherCity College Norwich, principal Corrienne Peasgood. PHOTO: Nick Butcher

Stuart Rimmer, Great Yarmouth College principal, penned an open letter urging schools and colleges to make mental health initiatives a priority - and calling on the government for funding.

He revealed that referrals at the college rose by 156pc from 2014/15 to 2015/16, up from 121 to 310, while disclosures of self-harming behaviour jumped from 38 to 110 - 189pc.

In his letter, he said “never has it been more important to be proactive in colleges” - but added direct funding was needed to “arrest and reverse” the crisis.

Today, education leaders backed his call - citing exam and career pressures, the tightening public purse and the constant influence of social media as reasons behind soaring case numbers.

Neatherd assistant headteacher Nick OBrien. Picture: Ian BurtNeatherd assistant headteacher Nick OBrien. Picture: Ian Burt

They say resourceful schools are being let down by slashed funding for their initiatives, cuts in the voluntary sector and strain on the NHS.

While alarming, Mr Rimmer said the figures did reflect better mental health awareness.

“We are better understanding the dialogue of mental health, while young people are becoming more mental health literate,” he said. “Everyone is certainly getting better at articulating it - but that’s only one side.”

Pupils in an exam room. Picture: David Davies/PA WirePupils in an exam room. Picture: David Davies/PA Wire

MORE: ‘We must be proactive’ - Letter reveals the rise in college mental health referrals

He said today’s generation faced pressures in academic performance, the job market, housing and the “constant surveillance” of social media - issues exacerbated by education and healthcare cuts.

Referrals for under-18s to the Norfolk and Suffolk NHS Foundation Trust (NSFT) jumped by 84pc between 2011/2012 - 4,971 - and 2014/15 - 9,166.

“As cuts keep kicking in to post-16 education, we will struggle,” he said. “We have links with about 40 agencies, which is great - but it shows that there is not one overall strategy.

“We need more direct funding - what price do we have to pay to have well young people at 18?”

Pupils at Northgate High School eager to join in a discussion during their personal, social and health education lesson. Picture: DENISE BRADLEYPupils at Northgate High School eager to join in a discussion during their personal, social and health education lesson. Picture: DENISE BRADLEY

Corrienne Peasgood, City College Norwich (CCN) principal, agreed that cuts had left support “fragmented”.

“Plenty of third sector organisations are struggling and disappearing,” she said. “It’s brought it into sharp focus - you go to pick up the phone for help and they’re not there.

“The threshold for statutory services is quite high, as it should be, so it is the area between what colleges can do and statutory help that is being left empty.”

Prime Minister Theresa May. Picture: Nick Ansell/PA WirePrime Minister Theresa May. Picture: Nick Ansell/PA Wire

MORE: Theresa May outlines initiatives to improve mental healthcare - but critics say more is needed

In 2013/14, the school saw 20 cases of mental health issues - a figure which had more than tripled to 90 by 2015/16 - a 350pc rise.

In 2015/16, there were also 90 extra pupils who disclosed suicidal thoughts and feelings.

Mrs Peasgood said there is

now a better understanding of mental health, but said the problems were also “much more prevalent” today.

“Pupils are living their lives somewhat in public 24/7,” she said. “They used to go home and not see anyone until the next day - now they are on social media sharing what they’re eating, what they’re watching. There’s so much pressure.”

She said CCN had found success in its work on resilience - teaching pupils who may not already have mental health problems skills to cope if they developed.

Meanwhile, Nick O’Brien, assistant headteacher (student welfare) at Dereham Neatherd High School, said about 10pc of the school’s pupils had mental health issues.

He said the “real worry” should be varying school provision.

MORE: Staggering increase in child mental health cases in Norfolk and Suffolk

“We do an awful lot to focus on mental health, but I wouldn’t say that all of our pupils are fine,” he said. “There are still ones I worry about.

“If I feel like that with the support we offer, what must it be like for pupils in schools with no support?”

In January, prime minister Theresa May pledged to give secondary schools mental health training as part of a drive to transform support.

What have they done?

In his letter, first published on TES, Mr Rimmer detailed the work undertaken at the college to support mental health.

• Its Progression and Wellbeing Programme is taught across the curriculum and is divided into four elements - building positive communities, wellbeing and Action for Happiness, progression and personal safety.

• Student union members and student ambassadors undertake the Action for Happiness, a movement aiming to create a happier society, training.

• University of Suffolk counselling degree students studying on campus provide counselling for students aged over 18.

• Partnership case work with NSFT mental health practitioners has been increased, with several students seen at the college to avoid disruption.

A spike in eating disorders in the last couple of years started a drive to promote a healthy lifestyle. As a result, college eating areas now promote healthy options and memberships at the on-site gym have increased.

• What are your experiences with mental health provision at schools? Email

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