Teachers are missing signs of poor mental health among pupils by treating behavioural issues with discipline and punishment, researchers have warned.
A lack of proper mental health training means teachers “often” fail to spot psychological distress and mistake it for simple bad behaviour, a new report has found.
Researchers at the Centre for Mental Health also said in their “state-of-the-nation” study on mental health provision in schools that an untreated, badly behaved child will cost a school £3,000 a year on average.
Andy Bell, deputy chief executive at the Centre, said a failure to identify the mental health issues suffered by some pupils – and signpost them and their parents towards supportive programmes – was commonplace.
“Schools are often seeing behaviour problems as a disciplinary problem rather than a mental health problem,” he told The Daily Telegraph.
“There’s always a few in every classroom, but I’m talking about children who regularly and persistently are behaving badly.
“Instead of just being a behaviour problem, it very often masks a serious level of distress.”
Of the one in 10 children – or one million at least – who suffer from mental health issues in the UK, only a quarter ever go on to receive professional help, according to the new report.
Many teachers wish to spot children suffering from anxiety, depression or conduct disorder, but few have the time within their main roles as educators, or the initial training, said Mr Bell.
“Schools are recognising it as a problem, but they don’t have the wherewithal to deal with this,” he said.
“Teacher training still doesn’t include healthy child development as standard. It’s extraordinary.”
The report also found that in the absence of early intervention, students endured a full 10 years of distress before the situation reached “crisis point” and proper treatment was sought a decade later.
Lorraine Khan, associate director for children and young people at the Centre, said: “Waiting for a child’s mental health to deteriorate until it hits crisis point causes untold distress and damage to their lives, and carries a heavy social and economic cost.”
The report said that while a distressed child costs a school £3,000 in extra staff time, a £1,000 parenting programme over 10 weeks can tackle the issue much better than detention.
But with cuts to NHS-funded services like CAMS (Children and Adolescent Mental health Services,) treatment remained a “postcode lottery” and patchy across the nation, researchers added.
“We have to take action now to offer high quality help quickly to children and young people everywhere,” said Ms Khan.