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Q&A with Sarah Kendrick on mental health and the teenage brain

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Sarah Kendrick, head of service (South) at Place2Be, is one of the keynote speakers from a stellar lineup at our 2018 secondary conference on Capturing the teenage brain. We put our questions to her ahead of the big event. 

What will be the key takeaways from your presentation?

Managing emotional well-being across a busy secondary school is a real challenge. I hope this session will help school leaders to feel better equipped to talk about mental health with their teachers, school staff and young people; and take steps to ensure everyone has access to the information and support they need.

What is the one thing you want the audience to understand on a deeper level?

As school leaders, you’re no doubt very aware of how vulnerable young people can be to mental health issues. However, adolescence also makes possible the great potential for change, and it is a time when improvements in emotional well-being can be made. This is thanks not only to brain plasticity but also to the way adolescents are typically interested in new ideas and mental health. I’m going to focus on how, when educating and supporting young people to build resilience, it’s important to step into their shoes and see challenges as they do to work effectively with them – even when that might be challenging.

What is the key piece of advice you would give every school leader to support pupils with mental health needs?

It’s so important to develop a ‘whole school approach’ to mental health - that includes things like behaviour policies. But it is also about recognising that emotional well-being is everyone’s business. I’ll discuss how the entire school community can have a positive influence on the well-being of students and staff.

CYPMHS have long waiting lists and high thresholds, which means many pupils referred cannot access the specialist support they need. But schools cannot be expected to plug this gap, and most schools do not have the funds to be able to commission specialist mental health services themselves. What can be done to ensure pupils do get the specialist support they need?

Identifying mental health problems as early as possible can prevent them from becoming life-long or enduring issues – and you don’t necessarily have to be a mental health professional to do that. Developing and maintaining strong relationships with local CAMHS and ensuring there is a shared language about the mental health and well-being of students is key too.  

What strategies can schools and teachers use to promote good mental health among their pupils?

Before they’re able to promote good mental health among their pupils, teachers need to look after themselves. When teachers and school staff are in good mental health and aware when they are not, it helps them to support their pupils better and makes them strong role models for how to practise emotional well-being. I’ll discuss this further and offer some suggestions.

How important is it that schools leaders are supported to maintain their mental health?

It’s crucial that all members of staff are supported, and this includes school leaders who have their specific stresses. I’ll discuss what well-being measures for staff might look like and how specialist mental health services, like Place2Be, can offer professional guidance.

I’ll be there! Book now for the early bird price.

Sarah Kendrick is head of service for the South at Place2Be, the UK's leading children's mental health charity that provides in-school support and expert training to improve the emotional well-being of pupils, families, teachers and school staff.

First published 30 November 2017