Are they a troublemaker?
Or might they have mental health needs that have never been met?
Could YOU tell the difference? Could the teacher?
Should the child be stigmatised, written off and excluded?
Or might this be a problem that is rooted in misunderstanding and one that can, with the correct support, be solved?
Could it be that, as a society, we’re all too quick to form an opinion and attach a label? Could it be that the underlying issues are too often ignored?
These are all questions that demand an answer if those most in need of our help are to ever receive the support required to meet their needs.
These are all questions that can be answered in the classroom.
The Government has announced that schools in England are to receive guidance in order to help teachers recognise pupils experiencing potential mental health issues.
The idea is that such issues can be addressed – either in school or on referral to a mental health service – before the problem is allowed to escalate.
It sounds rather basic, a common-sense solution. It amazes us that no-one has thought to do something like this before.
Stepping aside from the politics, it strikes us that this is a step in the right direction.
Teachers are not therapists and no-one expects them to be. But teachers are often the first responders and the earlier a problem can be identified, the quicker it can be addressed . . .
Before the stigma starts. Before the label is attached. Before the child is branded a troublemaker. Before it’s too late.
It has to start in the classroom for it is in the classroom that such judgements are often made and in the classroom that such issues often escalate.
Those to have experienced this for themselves talk about a lack of understanding and not receiving adequate help or support. Labelled a troublemaker or a ‘problem child’, the acting up intensifies. It’s a call for help, but one that too often goes unheard.
The Department for Education says one-in-five five to 16-year-olds either has, or is at risk from, a mental health problem. Such a statistic demands action. Understanding (and being equipped to respond in an effective manner) is crucial.
In giving teachers the tools to aid those demonstrating ‘behaviour, whether it is disruptive, anxious, withdrawn, depressed or otherwise, [that might] be related to an unmet mental health need’, it is to be hoped that more children get access to the help and support required to address their problems. But it has to be done right.
Teachers must be trained properly, the wider issues identified and the correct environment provided. Stigma must be avoided at all costs, whilst self-esteem and confidence are nurtured.
It’s our opinion that, in order to foster greater understanding, mental health issues (and certain contributing factors) should be included in some form on the curriculum but let’s take this one step at a time.
There is an important distinction to be made between those bent on causing trouble and those suffering from a problem that demands our attention.
It’s about time more people started to realise it.