With one in five children reported to have a probable mental disorder in 2023; early help and support is vital. A new mental health professional role is helping children across Greater Manchester get much needed early support in schools and colleges.
Educational mental health practitioners are one of the key roles within mental health support teams – a service that provides early support to children experiencing emotional and behavioural difficulties, such as worry or low mood, in schools.
Pennine Care NHS Foundation Trust, which runs mental health support teams in Bury, Oldham, Rochdale, Stockport and Tameside schools, has recruited 40 trainee educational mental health practitioners over the past three years.
Current trainee educational mental health practitioner, Megan Loizou, said: “I studied psychology at Durham University and then qualified as a teacher. I was a teacher for five years and saw first-hand the worsening mental health of children year-on-year, particularly during the pandemic. I decided I wanted to be part of the solution, which led me to this role.”
Megan, who is now studying a one-year postgraduate diploma through the University of Manchester to become a qualified educational mental health practitioner, explains a typical week: “I spend a couple of days each week in both primary and secondary schools in Tameside shadowing qualified practitioners. They’ll be completing intervention work and assessments with children, supporting them with mental health difficulties. The remainder of the week I’ll be in the office or at university.”
James Burke, who qualified as an educational mental health practitioner in 2021, explains why he chose to work in children’s mental health: “I’ve always been passionate about helping others. Having personally struggled with feelings of worry and self-esteem myself, I can empathise towards others who are struggling. When I first I heard about this role, I thought it sounded like a wonderful new initiative and a fantastic opportunity.”
James, who works with one secondary and three primary schools in Rochdale, adds: “I feel very privileged to be doing the work that I do. The most rewarding part is establishing good relationships, children get the most out of my support when they are free to express their problems and not worried of being judged.
“I especially enjoy those moments when someone has bottled things up for a long time and they start opening up to you. You can visibly see how a weight has been suddenly lifted.”
Jenny Dixson, a former teacher, recently qualified as an educational mental health practitioner in Stockport, said; “I’ve had a wide and diverse career in teaching; from working with children from the traveller community, to teaching children admitted to hospital due to mental health issues or eating disorders.
“As soon as I found out about this new role, I was keen to apply. I’ve worked with children on mental health and eating disorders wards for almost 10 years; and feel very passionate about helping children receive the early support they need to stop them for ever getting to that stage. In my previous roles, I was very aware of the lack of understanding in schools and the need for mental health support at all levels.”
Jenny added: “I work with primary and secondary schools, and most recently a college, so I support children aged 8 to 18 years old. Seeing children and teenagers talk openly about their mental health is hugely rewarding. I work with children one-to-one and in groups; I also organise workshops, deliver assemblies, and hold parent coffee mornings on a wide range of topics and themes.”