28th November 2018
Positive mental health in Boarding schools-early intervention is key
By Patricia Moores

Early intervention the key to success

Rather than trying to deal with a child that already has developed quite challenging mental health issues, early detection is vital, but a particularly difficult task. Research highlights how reluctant students are to ask for help “less than 20% were willing to approach the support services in their institution.” (Silently Stressed- a survey into Student Mental Health) Further, “54% of students stated they would rather manage themselves if they had emotional problems rather than accessing any services. This was particularly prevalent among male students and international students.” (Director of Public Health for Newcastle 2012).

However, within the Boarding school sector there are some interesting new initiatives to explore:

Pangbourne College has introduced a high tech approach to the monitoring student wellbeing. AS Tracking monitors pupil behaviours and can highlight pastoral concerns. The system is a proactive, targeted, and evidence-based way of identifying potential mental health issues as early on as possible. This is done by measuring pupils’ cognitive biases and detecting wellbeing risks, providing hard data to support the work carried out by our teaching and pastoral staff. The individual data is collated twice annually, year on year, allowing for consistent action planning for each pupil. This breadth of information is not only perfect for individual analysis but it can highlight trends, cultural changes, and the influences of each year group within the whole school. “Identifying these signs can be particularly crucial when working with international students”, says Caroline Bond, Deputy Head

Liz Parker from Cambridge Academic Performance delivers a mental health occupational therapy service directly to students within their schools, under the auspices of an Academic mentoring role.

“An example of the approach taken by Liz is the rebadging of counselling, as academic mentoring. This has the effect of circumventing the stigma of language and enables students to tie the support they receive to the ultimate purpose of their time in our college – academic work.” Julian Davies, Principal, Abbey College Cambridge.

CAP’s approach helps remove the sigma of accessing services purely from a mental health perspective. Liz’s team work with students to achieve their academic goals, whilst also working on any personal issues holding them back. These issues may include serious mental health conditions, emerging problems or simply a drop in academic performance. As a trained Occupational therapist Liz’s team can assess and treat students and where necessary write reports and refer students into the primary care services. A letter from an occupational therapist can fast track this notoriously slow and difficult process.

Liz finds that the majority of the students who come to use her team’s services primarily come for academic support, such as revision techniques, exam stress and improving grades. However, many of these students find, through working with Liz, that the real barriers to their academic performance lie in managing their confidence, self-esteem and anxiety.

Back to parental pressure, many students accessing CAP services are caught up in perfectionistic thinking. These students typically do not view their problems as a mental health issue – they view their difficulties in terms of achieving perfect grades. This student group, which is often very hard to access, come to see Liz’s team in order to improve their grades. This then allows them the opportunity to explore the problematic nature of their thinking which can lead to burn out and poor performance.

The value of early intervention counselling also still has its place and offering this 1:1, confidential support is critical for many students. Mike Oliver from Brooke House college states; “The anonymity of being able to discuss matters with the counsellor on a one-to-one basis rather than in a house setting or class room setting has proved to be extremely beneficial,” adds Mike Oliver. “Whilst adhering to the BCAPS counselling procedures etc., there is an understanding that issues will be brought to our attention even if aspects of confidentiality are followed. (Within guidelines about letting the school know if there is a serious safeguarding issue etc.) I get the impression the pupils like this ‘buffer’ between them and the school leaders as they feel they are not ‘telling tales’ themselves if the counsellor tells me there is an issue.”