What is the role of a Senior 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 School Mental Health Lead role

Each school will have their own way of establishing the role of the School Mental Health Lead (SMHL); 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 SMHL role provides further information. If you are looking to recruit or appoint a SMHL for your school or of college you may also find our example SMHL job description helpful.

The SMHL 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 SMHL 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 SMHL 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?

Many schools see the role as a 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 SMHL is responsible for planning, evaluating and implementing their school-wide strategy to support all pupils (and staff).

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

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 SMHL role?

Many Mental Health Leads undertake the role in addition to other pastoral, teaching or leadership duties.  The more time the Senior 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 moral 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 Senior Mental Health Leads.

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

The government recommends that your Senior 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 Senior Mental Health Leads.

Find out more

We have supported several 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 our more about our approach and framework for developing mental health in schools by accessing our free Discovery Workshop for Mental Health Leads.

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