Acceptability and feasibility of early identification of mental health difficulties in primary schools: a qualitative exploration of UK school staff and parents’ perceptions

Jasmine Childs-Fegredo, Tamsin Ford, Emma Howarth, Anne-Marie Burn, Robbie Duschinsky, Peter B Jones, Ayla Humphrey

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Aims: One in eight children aged 5-19years in the UK suffer from a psychiatric disorder, while fewer than 35% are identified and only 25% of children access mental health services. Whilst government policy states that primary schools are well-placed to spot the early warning signs of mental health issues in children, the implementation of early identification methods in schools remains under-researched. This study aims to increase understanding of the acceptability and feasibility of different early identification methods in this setting. Method: Four primary schools in the East of England in the UK participated in a qualitative exploration of views about different methods that might enhance the early identification of mental health difficulties (MHDs). Twenty-seven staff and 20 parents took part in semi-structured interviews to explore current and future strategies for identifying pupils at risk of experiencing MHDs. We presented participants with four examples of identification methods selected from a systematic review of the literature: a curriculum-based approach delivered to pupils, staff training, universal screening, and selective screening. Analysis: We used NVivo to thematically code and analyse the data, examining which models were perceived as acceptable and feasible as well as participants’ explanations for their beliefs. Results: Three main themes were identified; benefits and facilitators; barriers and harms, and the need for a tailored approach to implementation. Parents and staff perceived staff training as the most acceptable and feasible approach to systematic identification, followed by a curriculum-based approach. Universal and selective screening garnered mixed responses. Discussion: Findings suggest that a systematic and tailored approach to early identification would be most acceptable and feasible, taking into consideration school context. Teacher training should be a core component in all schools.
Original languageEnglish
JournalSchool Mental Health
Publication statusPublished - 18 Nov 2020

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