A total of 48 primary and secondary schools across Leicester, Leicestershire and Rutland now have a dedicated educational mental health practitioner (EMHP) working with them to support their students’ mental wellbeing and emotional resilience, as part of the new Mental Health Support Teams (MHST) in Schools programme.

This Children’s Mental Health Week, Leicestershire Partnership NHS Trust is celebrating our newly qualified practitioners, who have completed their training following an initiation phase of the programme last year. They will now continue to provide early intervention support, helping children and young people with their mental health before problems start to build up or become severe, with struggles such as low mood, mild anxiety and worry. The programme, which includes individual and group work, is also expanding and looking to work with additional schools in the next school year.

EMHPs offer a number of focussed face-to-face or virtual sessions with children and young people at a time which suits them. They also work during the school holidays. Through the use of techniques such as cognitive behavioural therapy, support strategies, breathing techniques, problem solving and personal plans – covering things like practical steps to help with better sleep – schools are noticing big improvements in their students getting this early support, at the right time.

Saint Martin’s Catholic Academy, a secondary school for 11-16-year-olds in Stoke Golding, started working with EMHP, Grace in December.

Caroline Abela, DPS and wellbeing advisor at the academy, said: “Since COVID-19 we have seen many more anxious children. Though most young people seemed to reintegrate into school life well initially, more recently we have seen the impact of the pandemic coming through, particularly around things like tests and speaking in front of people. We’ve also noticed that young people are picking up on family struggles.

“Being a part of the MHST programme has been amazing. Though it is still very early days for us, we have seen significant impacts in the small number of children who have been supported by Grace so far.

“The support has been tailored to their needs and has linked in with the young people’s parents. They now feel empowered and listened to, their needs are being addressed, they are building resilience and their confidence is growing.

“Schools are so busy at the moment; this has helped us to fill a much-needed gap. We just wish we could clone Grace so there are more of her – and we are looking forward to tapping into more of her knowledge to help our whole school.”

The apt theme of this year’s Children’s Mental Health Week, Growing Together, is reflective of the MHST approach. Not only do practitioners work with individual students, but they also work with school mental health leads and head teachers – alongside school nurses and other partners – to provide advice on how the whole school can make improvements, to offer a better environment to support the wellbeing of all their students.

Gary Aldred, headteacher of Abbey Mead Primary Academy – one of eight schools from the Mead Education Trust who have signed up to the programme, said: “The Mental Health Support Teams in Schools programme has been fundamental in helping some of our students overcome a range of challenges and barriers relating to their mental health. Our practitioner, Mellissa, specialises in low intensity cognitive behavioural therapy treatments. I have seen first-hand how her interventions have made a tangible difference to the lives of several pupils.

“Following several national and local lockdowns, we could see a higher proportion of children displaying dysregulation and concerns. Mellissa has helped us by delivering training to our school staff. She produced a session focussed around positive mental health and wellbeing; allowing staff to explore commonalities in mental health difficulties faced by children and gave advice on what behaviours to look out for.

“Not only did colleagues learn about the difficulties some of our children experience, but also learnt about practical measures that could be implemented across the school to minimise the impact upon pupils.”

The MHST programme currently supports the following number of schools in the city, county and Rutland:

  • Leicester City: 11 schools
  • Melton and Rutland: 21 schools
  • North West Leicestershire, Hinckley and Bosworth: 16 schools

Helen Thompson, director of the families, young people, children’s and learning disabilities services at Leicestershire Partnership NHS Trust, said; “We know that now, more so than ever following the COVID-19 pandemic, that we all need to be looking after our mental health and wellbeing.

“This service complements our existing mental health and school offer and supports those who need help but are not experiencing as severe difficulties as some of the young people we may see in our specialist CAMHS service.

“Our teams have been focusing on supporting those who may not ordinarily have access to this kind of support or be able to afford private therapy, thereby helping to reduce local health inequalities.

“We have really enjoyed working in partnership with schools to help children and young people, both on an individual and whole school basis. Each school and approach are different, so we are seeing really targeted, tailored and innovative ideas implemented across the schools we work with.

“If you’re a person who goes to a school with a MHST in place and feel like you could use their support, please speak with your teacher or practitioner if you see them around. Your mental health matters and they’re there to help you.”

A full breakdown of all schools participating in the programme can be found on the Health for Teens and Health for Kids websites, along with more information about the programme and links to local support services:

You can also watch this video animation, which explains more about the programme

Schools who are interested in being supported by the programme in future can register their interest by contacting the team on llr.mhst@nhs.net.