Mental health and behaviour in schools



This non-statutory advice from the Department for Education clarifies the responsibility of the school, outlines what they can do and how to support a child or young person whose behaviour - whether it is disruptive, withdrawn, anxious, depressed or otherwise - may be related to an unmet mental health need.


Schools say that this is a difficult area. They want to know what the evidence says, share approaches to supporting children at risk of developing mental health problems and be clearer on their own and others’ responsibilities


One in ten children and young people aged 5 to 16 have a clinically diagnosed mental health disorder and around one in seven has less severe problems.


This advice helps schools to promote positive mental health in their pupils and identify and address those with less severe problems at an early stage and build their resilience. This advice will also help schools identify and support pupils with more severe needs and help them make appropriate referrals to specialist agencies such as Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services (CAMHS) where necessary. 


Key points

  • In order to help their pupils succeed, schools have a role to play in supporting them to be resilient and mentally healthy. There are a variety of things that schools can do, for all their pupils and for those with particular problems, to offer that support in an effective way.

  • Where severe problems occur schools should expect the child to get support elsewhere as well, including from medical professionals working in specialist Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services (CAMHS), voluntary organisations and local GPs.

  • Schools should ensure that pupils and their families participate as fully as possible in decisions and are provided with information and support. The views, wishes and feelings of the pupil and their parents should always be considered.

  • Schools can use the Strengths and Difficulties Questionnaire (SDQ) to help them judge whether individual pupils might be suffering from a diagnosable mental health problem and involve their parents and the pupil in considering why they behave in certain ways.

  • MindEd, a free online training tool, is now available to enable school staff to learn more about specific mental health problems. This can help to sign post staff working with children to additional resources where mental health problems have been identified. Counselling MindEd, which is part of MindEd, is also available to support the training and supervision of counselling work with children and young people.

  • There are things that schools can do – including for all their pupils, for those showing early signs of problems and for families exposed to several risk factors – to intervene early and strengthen resilience, before serious mental health problems occur.

  • Schools can influence the health services that are commissioned locally through their local Health and Wellbeing Board – Directors of Children’s Services and local Healthwatch are statutory members.

  • There are national organisations offering materials, help and advice. Schools should look at what provision is available locally to help them promote mental health and intervene early to support pupils experiencing difficulties. Help and information about evidence-based approaches is available from a range of sources

Mental health and behaviour in schools


Mental Wellbeing Checklist – National Mental Health Development Unit


This checklist provides a quick framework to help people consider mental well-being in more detail when commissioning, delivering or developing a policy, strategy, service or initiative.


Mental Wellbeing Checklist


Resilience and Results: How to improve the emotional and mental wellbeing of children and young people in your school.


Children and young people’s mental health coalition


Resilience and Results


Whole School/Holistic Approach


Research demonstrates that emotions play an important role in a person’s ability to learn. Funded by the Department for Education, the YoungMinds in Schools project supports the wellbeing of children and young people in schools. Designed to support educational professionals’ understanding of the link between emotional wellbeing and learning, the project offers comprehensive guidance, including approaches to support emotional wellbeing in schools and a detailed resources section.


Information can also be found here on this website's EHWB page.


A 'whole school', or 'holistic', approach to emotional health and wellbeing in educational settings promotes a positive and productive atmosphere that is conducive to learning and achievement. Ensuring a holistic approach is a vital element of Tier 1 (universal) CAMHS.


The key principles guiding a whole school approach to developing emotional health and wellbeing (EHWB) are:

  • Leadership, management and managing change: leadership and management behave in a manner which shows a concern for the EHWB of others

  • Policy development: Policies are developed through an inclusive process that values the views of all

  • Curriculum planning and resourcing including work with outside agencies: Curriculum planning is accessible to, and involves, all appropriate individuals including children, young people and outside agencies

  • Learning and Teaching: All members of the school feel safe to learn. Teaching approaches consider the needs of all learners, are inclusive, and as a result enhance the EHWB of all children and young people

  • School culture and environment: The culture of the school is one that encourages  and reinforces acceptance, understanding, and celebrates difference

  • Giving children and young people a voice: Children and young people share responsibility in decision making within the school and are able to identify their contribution to school improvement

  • Provision of support services for children and young  people: Support services for children and young people are relevant and appropriate to need

  • Staff professional development needs, health and welfare: Staff report that the school supports and enhances their EHWB

  • Partnerships with parents/carers and local communities: Parents/carers   and local communities enjoy and are actively involved within the school. This involvement is varied and in response to consultation

  • Assessing, recording and reporting children and young people’s achievement: The assessment, reporting and recording systems within the school are rigorous, realistic and relevant to children and young people. The achievement of all children and young people is celebrated