What is the role of a Designated Mental Health Lead?

The role and remit of the mental health lead are not clear cut or the same in every school. You may want to appoint a Mental Health Lead, or become one yourself, and be looking for further information and advice.

Introducing the Designated School Mental Health Lead role

Each school will have their own way of establishing the role of the School Designated Mental Health Lead (DMHL); primaries will be different from secondaries and colleges.

The role and associated tasks will be different school to school: it’s important to realise that a one-size-fits-all is not appropriate. This extensive guide about the DMHL role provides further information.

If you are looking to recruit or appoint a DMHL for your school or of college you may also find our downloadable example DMHL job description helpful.

The DMHL role can involve different things depending on many factors specific to your own situation. Factors that impact on the day-to-day duties of the DMHL include size of school community, demographic of pupil body, local community, location, staff team and current climate or culture in your school.

It is crucial to consider how mental health and wellbeing being are perceived as this will effect what's required from the DMHL in your school. Is it seen as a 'fluffy bolt-on', a 'nice to have' or an essential role in the same way we view a Designated Safeguarding Lead now?

The DfE are increasing awareness of the requirement for all schools to have a trained senior or mental health lead in post by 2025.

Many schools see the role as a designated practitioner who provides direct intervention work with more vulnerable pupils who may be struggling with mental health problems.

However, research and practice tells us the most effective way to support mental health problems in children and young people is to develop a whole school approach to mental health and wellbeing – the DMHL is responsible for overseeing, planning, evaluating and implementing their school-wide strategy to support the mental health of all pupils (and staff).

This video introduces the general purpose of the role of a Mental Health Lead and what that might look like in practice.

Senior Mental Health Lead or a Designated Mental Health Lead?

Before you start looking at the Designated Mental Health Lead role further may find here may be subtle differences between the role of Designated and Senior Mental Health Lead. This really does depending on your school or setting.

For example

  • The senior leader may have more or a strategic implantation and planning role working in SLT, they may be the Head teacher, Deputy or Assistant Head
  • The designated lead may have a more hands-on coordination role.
  • If you have a large school or college you may have staff in both roles working closely together.
  • In a smaller school the same person may be responsible for strategy, planning and coordination.
  • The Designated Mental Health Lead may create and lead their own targeted wellbeing and mental health interventions for pupils

There is no hard and fast rule about what is right or wrong. It is up to you to do what is best for your school or college. The most important thing is that the role is involved in developing a long term effective approach to school mental health.

Why is the SMHL role aimed at leaders and not practitioners?

The Senior Mental Health Lead's role is a strategic leadership role, with oversight of the whole school or college approach to mental health and wellbeing in their setting.

The government have recognised the importance of the Senior Mental Health Lead role and are committing to funding 1/3 of schools in England to train a SMHL this year, with the aim that all schools will be encouraged to have a SMHL by 2025. One reason it's important that the SMHL has leadership responsibilities is that, to make the biggest difference to all pupils, strategies for developing wellbeing need to be planned and embedded at a strategic leadership level. The SMHL is required to have the authority and influence to support the development of strategic change.

How much commitment is the DMHL role?

Many mental health and wellbeing leads undertake the role in addition to other pastoral, teaching or leadership duties.  The more time the Mental Health Lead can commit to developing school mental health and wellbeing, the bigger and more sustainable impact they can make to all pupils or students.

This will impact on learning, achievement, behaviour and even staff wellbeing and morale and actually save you time in the long run.

The more time, training and support your SMHL has the more difference they can make to your children and young people.

To support them we have developed our own in-depth DfE assured package of support and training for Mental Health Leads. This includes online training which introduces you to the SMHL role.

What are the latest recommendations for schools wanting to create a Designated Mental Health Lead post?

The government recommends that your Mental Health Lead is a member of your Senior Leadership team, or works very closely with your leadership team, and has their support to influence strategic change and embed mental health and wellbeing into the culture of your school.

This recommendation has been driven by extensive evidence that suggests a whole school approach to mental health and wellbeing is the most effective way to make a difference to the mental health of pupils and students. You can find out more here on the government information page for or this in-depth guide for Senior Mental Health Leads

Appointing a Designated Mental Health Lead

You may be at the start of your school or college journey in appointing a mental health lead, this downloadable mini-course and job spec help you understand the role and remit so you can appoint the right person for the role to have the biggest impact on your school.

Designated Mental Health Lead Training

If you are looking for DfE assured training to support you in your role as SMHL we have created an online course that introduces you to the SMHL role as part of our Wellbeing Club Membership.

We have supported several Designate Mental Health and Wellbeing Leads in primary, secondary and FE colleges on their journey through developing their own sustainable approaches to school mental health and wellbeing. Find out more about our approach and framework for developing mental health in schools by accessing our free Workshop for Mental Health Leads.

Find out how you can access DfE grant funding to cover the costs of your SMHL training by accessing our FREE funding information session.

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