Plea to help north-east teachers struggling to support youngsters with mental illnesses

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Guidance teachers and classroom assistants are being trained to become therapists as part of a trial scheme to ease a growing mental health crisis.

With rising numbers of youngsters suffering from illnesses including anxiety and depression, NHS Grampian has launched a new initiative to catch and manage symptoms early.

The Liam programme, or Low Intensity Anxiety Management, has been rolled out in Portlethen with school staff in Banchory to benefit soon as well.

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It comes as NHS Grampian’s clinical director for child and adolescent mental health revealed that teachers often do not feel equipped to help those struggling in class.

Dr Lynne Taylor, clinical director for NHS Grampian’s child and adolescent mental health service (CAMHS), told the P&J: “There is regular feedback from school staff in the north-east that they do not always feel adequately equipped to meet the rising demand of children and young people who require mental health support.”

But she added that the service is in the middle of a “transformational redesign” to better support pupils and teachers alike.

Part of this involves the roll-out of Liam, where guidance teachers and support for learning assistants are trained by clinical psychologists to offer therapy to children.

Dr Taylor said: “We would hope that as these developments grow we will be able to support our colleagues in education to manage the rising demand and national crisis of mental health needs of children and young people.”

The initiative has been welcomed by North East Labour MSP Lewis Macdonald, who said: “It is just this kind of low intensity ill-health that can all too quickly escalate into something more serious.

“Just like physical illness, the best cure for mental illness is to catch it at an early stage and stop it getting worse, and that’s just what this project can help to deliver.”

Earlier this year it was revealed that some youngsters are being left on waiting lists for almost six months for access to mental health services – double the national average.

Last month, Nicola Sturgeon pledged an additional £250million for mental health services over the next five years as she announced her new programme for government.

This included £60million which will be spent ensuring that every secondary school in the country has a counselling service.

Alexander Burnett, Scottish Conservative MSP for Aberdeenshire West, has called for the north-east to be given additional help.

He said: “This is a growing problem across the country, but figures show that Grampian is trailing far behind.

“Families in the north-east have to contend with the lowest amount of clinical staff in Scotland.

“In fact, the staffing levels are currently half the national average.

“That is simply unacceptable.”