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Government ministers Justine Greening and Jeremy Hunt visit school in Whitechapel

PUBLISHED: 12:06 06 December 2017 | UPDATED: 12:50 06 December 2017

Government ministers visiting Swanlea School in Whitechapel to discuss mental health programme with staff and pupils. Picture: Zara Islam/Swanlea

Government ministers visiting Swanlea School in Whitechapel to discuss mental health programme with staff and pupils. Picture: Zara Islam/Swanlea

Zara Islam/Swanlea

Government ministers visited Swanlea Secondary in Whitechapel to monitor how its pupils’ mental health awareness strategy has been functioning.

Education Secretary Justine Greening and Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt saw the effects of the ‘Schools Link’ pilot programme connected to the NHS mental health services that ran in 2015-16.

“Half of all mental illness starts before the age of 14,” Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt said. “So it’s vital that children get support as soon as they need it—in the classroom.

“We can treat mental ill health early if we catch it and stop it turning into something more serious for the most severe cases.”

Students showed the Education Secretary their own awareness campaign video titled ‘I Am Me’ which promotes the issue in the community.

A new four-week waiting time for NHS mental health services for pupils is being trialled where they get support at school or college.

The government set out plans in a Green Paper on Monday to improve mental health support earlier, with funding to train school staff.

Education Secretary Justine Greening who visited Swanlea ahead of the Green Paper said: “Mental health issues can have a lifelong impact, affecting performance at school, careers and ultimately life opportunities. But we want every youngster to grow up confident about themselves.”

All schools and colleges are being urged to appoint a designated senior figure under the proposals to help children get access to therapies and other NHS treatments if they need them. That figure would be responsible for pupils’ pastoral support with policies to reduce bullying and other behaviours that cause distress.

The Young Minds parents’ help-line charity has welcomed the Green Paper involving schools intervening early when problems emerge.

Its chief executive Sarah Brennan said: “We’re facing a mental health crisis in our classrooms. Far too many children right now are not getting the support that they need. Many start to self-harm, become suicidal, or drop out of school while waiting for the right help.”

Long waits have “a devastating impact” on youngsters and their families, the charity points out. Only one-in-four pupils with problems currently gets the help needed.

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