Gyimah announces peer-mentoring plans for schools

By Jess Brown

| 26 October 2015

The government is ploughing ahead with plans that will see students support their peers on mental health issues, it has been confirmed.

DfE minister Sam Gyimah has said he wants to pursue peer-mentoring projects in schools. Image: Alex Deverill

Speaking at an event staged by health charity The King’s Fund, childcare minister Sam Gyimah, who is also responsible for strengthening Department for Education links with child and adolescent mental health services (CAMHS), said children can be trained to spot mental illness and provide support to their peers.

He said an advisory group to examine effective peer mentoring programmes is to be established.

Gyimah had previously suggested that peer-to-peer support networks in schools could form part of government efforts to improve the mental health of young people.

"I have been particularly struck that young people understand better than anyone the pressures they face, which are totally different to when I was growing up," Gyimah said at the King's Fund event.

"They turn to each other for support in many areas of their life and I want to put them at the heart of developing new approaches. The last thing young people want is an adult telling them how they should feel or how they should respond.

"That is why I am setting up an advisory group to explore the key elements of effective peer mentoring programmes, and bringing together those established at delivering training on both mental health and peer mentoring, and those that can provide recognition for such activity.

"By training children in recognising mental illnesses, and in mentoring techniques, we can help tackle the insecurity that can go with mental health problems while also helping to destigmatise it."

Gyimah said young people’s views will be central to developing plans.

"We will make sure that they are fully involved, including as members of the group," he said.

Sarah Brennan, chief executive of YoungMinds, said: "We welcome Sam Gyimah's announcement of the advisory group at the Department for Education to develop peer mentoring programmes in schools to tackle mental health stigma.

"It is also welcome news that young people, including YoungMinds activists will play a key role in shaping this work going forward.

"The children and young people we work with often tell us that a peer-to-peer model in understanding the importance of good mental health and tackling stigma is far more effective than a purely teacher led approach.

"Children and young people are growing up in a pressure cooker environment and so it is vital that whole school approaches to improving their resilience and mental health,  including giving them the tools to support one another are implemented."

Jonathan Rallings, assistant director for policy at Barnardo's, said peer to peer mentoring in schools is "a step in the right direction".

"Relating to a friend or family member is often the first stage of seeking help. However, access to professional help should be available in school so that young people can get expert support," he added.

"A friendly ear from a friend at school can be helpful but it won’t help young people overcome complex mental health issues.” 

The government has set aside £1.25bn to improve mental health services for children and young people by 2020.

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