Theresa May has announced measures to provide every school with mental health first aid training and to teach children more about mental wellbeing.
The plan builds on a proposal announced in January to make mental health first aid training available to all secondary schools, with the aim of having trained at least one teacher in every secondary school by 2019.
The prime minister also wants to provide each school with a single point of contact with mental health services, and to include more in the curriculum about mental wellbeing, particularly in relation to keeping safe online and cyber bullying.
The plans are part of a wider package of reforms that would tear up the Mental Health Act and replace it with new legislation aimed largely at reducing the number of vulnerable people detained in prison cells.
Mrs May said: “We are going to roll out mental health support to every school in the country, ensure that mental health is taken far more seriously in the workplace, and raise standards of care with 10,000 more mental health professionals working in the NHS by 2020.
“These reforms are a vital part of my plan to build a fairer society for all, not just the privileged few, and they demonstrate the positive difference that strong and stable leadership makes.”
But Liberal Democrat former health minister Norman Lamb dismissed the promises as “empty rhetoric”.
Mr Lamb told the Press Association: “I’m sick and tired of great rhetoric from this government about their commitment to mental health but the reality for families across our country is just so very different,”
“Let’s just make them make the investment that they committed to in 2015 in our children’s mental health services.”
The Tories have made it clear that they are not prepared to invest any more from additional taxation, he added.
Speaking this morning on the BBC’s Andrew Marr show, health secretary Jeremy Hunt said the proposals would prevent children with mental health problems “ending up in police cells”.
He said: “There is a lot of new money coming in to it – £1 billion.” This amount was announced in January. Asked whether it was new money, Mr Hunt stated: “It’s new money going into the NHS that’s going into mental health.”
Several surveys have shown that many schools struggle to refer pupils to NHS mental health services. More than half of school leaders said they found it hard to locate services for pupils with mental health problems, according to a survey by the NAHT heads’ union and the children’s mental health charity Place2Be in February.
Last week, a cross-party group of MPs found that school funding cuts were harming pupils’ mental health.