Group of young people sat in a circle talking

National mental health programme beneficial but could be even better

Whilst the Trailblazer initiative that supports children and young people’s mental health has been shown to be beneficial, new research has also indicated there is room for improvement.

The programme funds the implementation of mental health support teams (MHSTs) in schools and colleges across England. This new study evaluated the programme’s first three years from its creation at the start of 2020, to now, including survey data collected from almost 300 schools and colleges, 132 interviews with staff, and focus groups with various service-users.

The results of the study showed that the programme had a positive impact on both the children and the workforce, with staff reporting how they felt more confident speaking to young people about their mental health and that their relationships with other staff were strengthened as well.

Children and young people expressed how important it was to them to have someone to talk about their mental health with, how staff actually empathised with them, and how this ultimately allowed them to manage the difficult feelings they were experiencing more effectively.

However, the study identified some of the programme’s shortcomings too, with feedback indicating there were concerns about the suitability of some of the cognitive behaviour approaches for some individuals and conditions – cultural and language barriers named specifically.

Some schools and colleges were also left frustrated that the MHSTs only focused on ‘mild to moderate’ mental health problems, whilst others felt that staff should’ve worked to encourage emotional health as much they did mental health.

The study’s lead researcher, the University of Birmingham’s Dr Jo Ellins, said: “Overall, children and young people who had contact with an MHST reported an overwhelmingly positive experience.

“Mental health services in schools and colleges are facing increased pressure, particularly following the pandemic, and the programme has significant potential. But teams may find it difficult to sustain activities focusing on promoting wellbeing, given the increasing demand for mental health support.”

Mental Health Minister, Maria Caulfield, added: “It’s encouraging to see that MHSTs are having a positive impact in schools, giving staff more confidence, improving access to advice and support, and strengthening relationships between schools and mental health services.

“This research shows there is room for improvement which I hope will be taken onboard as the number of MHSTs will increase to almost 400 by April 2023. These will cover three million children and young people – part of an extra £2.3bn a year investment into mental health services.”

The trailblazer programme is co-led by the Department of Health and Social Care, the Department of Education, and NHS England.

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NHE May/June 2024

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