Mental Health

Mental Health and emotional well-being in school – an overview



Mental health problems are changes in thought, mood and/or behaviour that impair functioning. (Murphey, Barry & Vaughn, 2013)


There are a variety of contributing factors to the onset of mental illness:

  • Physical causes
  • Social and environmental causes
  • Psychological factors
  • Family history

Conditions are also influenced by the distribution of money, power and resources operating at global, national and local levels.

In an average class of 30 15-year-old pupils…

  • 3 could have a mental disorder
  • 10 are likely to have witnessed their parents separate
  • 1 could have experienced the death of a parent
  • 7 are likely to have been bullied
  • 6 may be self-harming

(Public Health England, 2105)

‘Children who are mentally healthy have the ability to:

  • develop psychologically, emotionally, intellectually and spiritually;
  • initiate, develop and sustain mutually satisfying personal relationships;
  • use and enjoy solitude;
  • become aware of others and empathise with them;
  • play and learn;
  • develop a sense of right and wrong; and
  • resolve (face) problems and setbacks and learn from them’

‘Some children experience a range of emotional and behavioural problems that are outside the normal range for their age or gender. These children and young people could be described as experiencing mental health problems or disorders.’ D of Education, 2016

When a problem persists or is severe then the child could be described as having a mental health disorder.

‘Mental health professionals have defined these as:

  • emotional disorders, e.g. phobias, anxiety states and depression;
  • conduct disorders, e.g. stealing, defiance, fire-setting, aggression and anti- social behaviour;
  • hyperkinetic disorders, e.g. disturbance of activity and attention;
  • developmental disorders, e.g. delay in acquiring certain skills such as speech, social ability or bladder control, primarily affecting children with autism and those with pervasive developmental disorders;
  • attachment disorders, e.g. children who are markedly distressed or socially impaired as a result of an extremely abnormal pattern of attachment to parents or major care givers; and
  • other mental health problems include eating disorders, habit disorders, post- traumatic stress syndromes; somatic disorders; and psychotic disorders e.g. schizophrenia and manic-depressive disorder

‘Certain individuals and groups are more at risk of developing mental health problems than others. These risks can relate to the child themselves, to their family, or to their community or life events. Risk factors are cumulative. Children exposed to multiple risks such as social disadvantage, family adversity and cognitive or attention problems are much more likely to develop behavioural problems’. From Dept. for Education, 2014, DFE-00435-2014

New Horizons is an SEMH school which means…

A specialist school for children whose behaviour is so severe or persistent it has impacted on their ability to attend mainstream school.

Our population of students presents with persistent disruptive behaviour and violence. They are all, without exception, exposed to or living with at least three of the following risk factors;

  • Learning disability
  • ASD
  • Speech and language difficulties
  • Chaotic home life
  • Are a Looked After Child
  • Exposure to DV (past or present)
  • Have experience of significant loss or separation
  • Live in poverty
  • Attachment difficulties
  • Developmental or relational trauma
  • Experience of neglect
  • Sensory processing issues
  • Experience of or witness to abuse (physical, emotional, sexual)
  • Witness to or have experience of a traumatic incident
  • Have a genetic or neuro-developmental diagnosis that impacts on their behaviour
  • Have a diagnosis of ADHD, ADD, ODD etc.

Mental health is compromised by risk factors such as these and these risks are cumulative. It is not unusual for a student to have 5 or more risk factors.

The student population of our SEMH schools is made up of children and families who have numerous risk factors. We believe our role is to provide a web of support that builds resiliency in the child, supports the family and counteracts risk. Resiliency strengthens our vulnerability to risk factors and is known to be a key factor in coping with adversity and supporting mental health.

We believe education has a key role to play in providing opportunities to build resiliency and that as a specialist school we must provide a multi-layered package of support to our students and their families. It is only by ensuring physical and emotional safety that openness to learning can be achieved.