Teachers – could YOU spot a mental health problem in your classroom?

What is SEMH, why is it important, and what do you need to know to spot, and support a child with SEMH in your classroom?

What is SEMH?

In a recent article written for Axcis, Lorraine Petersen OBE tells us:

Friend of Axcis, Lorraine Petersen OBE

The (relatively) new category of social, emotional and mental health (SEMH) needs replaced the old category of behaviour, emotional and social difficulties (BESD) in the SEND Code of Practice 2015. Many schools used the BESD category for all those pupils who appeared to have any behaviour difficulties from those who were withdrawn to those who had challenging behaviour. Often teachers were unsure of what was triggering the behaviours and so were not able to identify the underlying needs.


What does this mean for teachers and front-line staff?

Lorraine also tells us that:

Mental health issues can present in a number of ways, and it is important to distinguish between a mental health problem, disorder and illness. Mental health problems are relatively common and may occur in 30 – 40% of all children during childhood. They will usually be short – term and mild and may arise from a number of different factors. It is these children and young people that we need to be able to identify and put in place intervention strategies to ensure they do not progress to having a more serious mental health disorder or mental health illness, both of which will require diagnosis and support from health professionals.


The crucial thing to notice for many teachers and support staff is that it is YOUR responsibility to look out for signs of social, emotional and mental health issues in the classroom, and to liaise with your team to provide support to the individual as appropriate.

What does a mentally unhealthy child look like?

It is important to remember that we are not just looking for “bad behaviour” – we are looking for signs of ANY mental health problem. This can include very quiet/withdrawn behaviour, so it’s important to keep an eye out for that in your classroom, too. Signs of mental ill-health in our children and young people might include, but not be limited to the following:


  • Feeling very sad or withdrawn for two or more weeks
  • Seriously trying to harm or kill yourself, or making plans to do so
  • Sudden overwhelming fear for no reason, sometimes with a racing heart or fast breathing
  • Involved in multiple fights, using a weapon, or wanting badly to hurt others
  • Severe, out- of-control behavior that can hurt yourself or others
  • Not eating, throwing up or using laxatives to make yourself lose weight
  • Intensive worries or fears that get in the way of daily activities
  • Extreme difficulty in concentrating or staying still that puts you in physical danger or causes school failure
  • Repeated use of drugs or alcohol
  • Severe mood swings that cause problems in relationships
  • Drastic changes in your behavior or personality

What to do if you think a child you work with is mentally unhealthy

Schools should now have a designated mental health lead, as well as a whole-school policy and approach to working with SEMH. This includes educating children so that they may be aware of their own issues and can seek help if required. However, if a child you work with is displaying signs of a mental health problem, your first point of call should be a discussion with the mental health lead in your school. From there, the issue can be investigated and supported as appropriate.


At Axcis, we work with many schools who require teachers and support staff to work with children who have SEMH issues. You don’t necessarily need specific training to work with these children. In fact, attitude, patience and the ability to provide continuity in a child’s life during difficult times can often be more important than having a glittering CV. At Axcis, we also offer fantastic Mental Health Awareness Training as part of our candidate CPD programme, so we can help to up-skill you in this area should you require it. To see what SEMH jobs we currently have available in your area, why not take a look at our jobs page? Alternatively, you can register in just a few minutes on our website and one of our friendly consultants will get in touch for a no-pressure chat about how we can assist you in your job hunting.

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Call Axcis and let us help you to find your next SEND jo.

3 Children in every classroom need your help, so don’t delay

When you stop to consider that an estimated 3 children in every classroom may have a mental health need and require support at any one time, it has never been more important to recruit and train professionals in this area to help. So if you are interested in finding out more, don’t delay, get in touch with Axcis today!

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