Before Christmas I completed an online Educare course about supporting children and young people struggling with mental health. At Tutor Trust, we know that issues of mental health can arise during a session. In light of this and to mark Children’s Mental Health Week 2020, I thought I’d share some key points from the course that our tutors may find useful. 

Anxiety is sadly very common among children and young people. Anxiety disorders are thought to affect five percent of the UK population (NHS, 2018). According to Young Minds, one in six young people will experience anxiety at some point. It can be triggered by pressure at school, whether social or academic, troubles at home or simply from going through puberty. 

Symptoms range from the psychological – paranoia, nervousness and negativity – to the physical – nausea, tension or difficulty sleeping. Panic attacks are also common in anxiety sufferers, characterised by fast breathing, faintness and chest pain. 

Children and young people can also be susceptible to depression, which is when someone is persistently low in spirit. This differs from having a ‘low mood’, which is less lengthy and affecting. Pupils might display symptoms if they’re struggling to concentrate or stay awake, or if they are regularly sad and withdrawn. 

A more serious symptom of depression is self-harm, which is when someone intentionally damages or injures their body. Self-harm affects people of all ages, but most people who report self-harm are aged between 11 and 25 years. Approximately 13% of young people between the ages of 11-16 have tried to hurt themselves. 

Self-harm can be spotted if individuals have unexplained cuts, bruises or burns that are noticeable or covered up. Visible physical tension in someone is another potential symptom. Self-harm is very serious and any signs of it in children or young people being tutored should be treated with great concern. 

Supporting children and young people with mental health issues as a tutor may seem like a complex matter, but we are very clear as a charity about how tutors should act. Tutor Trust policy is that all tutors should report any behaviour displayed by their pupils that suggests they are struggling with mental health problems. If you notice symptoms of anxiety, depression or self-harm in a session, you must report it to Tutor Trust and the school before you have left the school premises of that session. 

Tutor Trust will never expect tutors to directly address pupils’ problems with mental health, but it is vital that tutors are aware of these and vigilant when working with pupils. Tutors should never offer themselves as someone to confide in or someone who can resolve a problem, but all tutors should keep an eye out for their pupils’ welfare and should respond appropriately to anything that might come up. 

There are ways you can support children and young people in sessions within the provisions of your role. Encourage positive thinking and compliment pupils’ work or progress. Avoid activities or setting work that can cause stress. There might be times when you’ll have to remind them that you are not necessarily the right person to talk to and that they should seek someone they’re close to, such as family or a mentor, or seek support from the school nurse or pastoral care staff. If you are suspicious, do not draw attention to the pupil but try to be a calming, constructive figure. 

Remember, if you ever witness or overhear something that concerns you about a pupil, you must notify the Designated Safeguarding Lead within the school you are carrying out tuition, and then the Tutor Trust’s Safeguarding lead, Jason Heaford, at [email protected] 

Tutor Trust are partnered with some incredible charities that help tackle these issues. TLC; Talk Listen Change, provide relationship improving services and have been working with Tutor Trust on our Alternative Provision project the Right Angle since last year. Place2Be are a mental health awareness charity that support children and young people and are responsible for organising Children’s Mental Health Awareness Week. You can have a look at the websites for these charities if you want more information on the topics discussed.