There has been a steady increase in the number of young people being diagnosed with mental health issues and this correlates with what we see on the ground in schools.  Schools often reflect what is happening, more broadly, in society, and while this is on a smaller scale it acts as a microcosm of the bigger picture.. We have seen in the children in our school an increase in issues which can be traced back to the state of their mental health.  We recently had a staff training day on the subject of Mental Health First Aid, which looked at the teenage brain, how it develops, what can impede this development and how, as professionals, we look to engage young people with an understanding of where they are in their development.  It was a positive training session as staff interacted with the trainers, asked questions and openly discussed their own practice with their peers.

One element of the training really struck me: common sense.  A lot of the time staff would say, ‘great, that is just common sense’.  Now I have a staff team who are generally very emotionally literate, and, within our culture, we are able to converse with each other (and the children) on an emotional as well as intellectual level.  What worried me was the thought that we could use the term ‘common sense’ as an excuse to do away with the rational well-thought-out processes which were being discussed.  When we pack our equipment for an outdoor activity, in our rucksack is a First Aid Kit and an Emergency Action Plan.  Why would we need a piece of card setting out what happens in an emergency if we have up-to-date qualifications? It is because when we are in the heat of the moment the rational part of our brain is heavily influenced by our survival instincts (via the fight, flight or freeze response), which means that common sense is not enough. We need to have a system to follow.

We cannot rely upon ‘common sense’ to be enough to deal with the situation we may find ourselves in.

The same approach should be applied to how we engage with mental health concerns, as we cannot rely upon ‘common sense’ to be enough to deal with the situation we may find ourselves in.  I can still remember learning the ABC (airways, breathing & circulation) part of First Aid, which is definitely ‘common sense’. However, the skills to understand how to effectively engage with the First Aid process can only be taught through a well-considered programme of training repeated on a regular basis. The way in which we educate, care and engage with children with mental health issues may make a lot of logical sense, but  the best practice is that based on a proven methodology that the whole team can follow and not the our own instincts or our character.

Looking around the room at our INSET training, it was great to see staff engaging with what seemed liked ‘common sense’ ideas. I guess the trick to ensuring our team stays well-informed and capable, is to make all that knowledge and process feel like second nature, as opposed to ‘common sense’.

— Mike King (CEO and executive Headteacher, Releasing Potential)

Releasing Potential offers training in The Management of Challenging Behaviour in children and young people. from Level 2 online to a full Level 4 qualification. For more see here.