Mental health practitioners are being embedded in secondary schools across Barnsley in a pioneering multi agency initiative to tackle poor mental health among children.

The £1.3m scheme is being funded by Barnsley Clinical Commissioning Group and delivered in all 10 Barnsley secondary schools by Wellspring Academy Trust, an agenda-setting multi academy trust which operates schools across Yorkshire and Lincolnshire.

Teams of mental health nurses will work with young people whilst trained counsellors will work with parents and carers. Tutors will provide group classroom-based intervention on topics such as self-harm, depression and suicide. Teaching staff will receive mental health training to help identify those needing support.

The MindSpace initiative was piloted during the past academic year and supported more than  200 young people including 63 parents before it was scaled up for the forthcoming year.

This new multi service approach to mental health provision bypasses waiting lists for traditional mental health services which have experienced rising demand and insufficient capacity. It ensures schools can tackle problems quickly and links mental health professionals, educators, families and young people in an entirely new way.

Early intervention has been proven to reduce exclusion rates, minimise family disruption and stem educational failure.

“MindSpace is the first step towards changing the whole culture around mental health and education,” said Mark Wilson, CEO of Wellspring Academy Trust, which aims to expand the instantly scalable service to other areas.

“We need to make it much easier for children to talk about mental health and seek support. This step change takes ambition but with multi agency collaboration it’s entirely possible and we owe it to young people to make this happen.

“We listened to young people during the pilot of this project and they overwhelmingly told us they want access to mental health professionals.

“By working in partnership with the CCG, CAHMS services (Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services) and local education authority, we can significantly reduce the pressure on families, schools, social services and the youth justice system. The benefits are far reaching for everyone concerned.”

A report released in 2015 revealed more than half of all mental illness starts before the age of 14 and 75% by 18. Statistics show that an average of three children in every classroom has a diagnosable mental health problem.

Barnsley has higher levels of self harm and substance misuse than the national average and a 2015 report of  Year 9 children in six Barnsley schools by Social Sense found that 24% said they were depressed most days and 29% had harmed themselves as a result of feeling stressed or anxious.[i]

MindSpace is precisely the kind of multi agency partnership that the Government demanded more of when it announced children’s mental health as a priority in January 2017.

The Government called for all teachers to be trained in mental health first aid. MindSpace will train both teaching and non teaching staff and children and their parents will be able to self refer. The aim is to train more than 240 teachers this academic year.

MindSpace officially launches on October 5 when commissioners, educators, politicians and influencers gather in Barnsley to hear more details.

For more details about MindSpace contact Michelle Sault, Head of Extended Services at Wellspring Academy Trust on 01226 720 742.

[i] In 2014/15 a company called ‘Social Sense’ were commissioned to carry out their survey, with schools in Barnsley, which is called ‘R U Different’, they surveyed year 9 pupils in 6 schools (4 mainstream and 2 special schools). Some of the relevant findings are:- Ø 16% of respondents said they ‘often’ felt bullied at school; Ø 24% said they felt anxious or depressed ‘most days’; Ø 29% said that they had harmed themselves as a result of feeling depressed or anxious.