1 January 2020

Definition of a ‘Whole School Approach to Mental Health’


Definition: A ‘whole school approach to mental health’ is a culture that is built upon empathy, relationships and evidence-based practice. These practices are embedded within the curriculum, policies and procedures across the school. They are inclusive and flexible to support and respond to the school community’s mental health needs.

Dr Asha Patel, Clinical Psychologist & CEO at Innovating Minds (2020)



‘A whole school approach to mental health’ has been a hot topic in the education sector (rightly so) but what struck me is that many people and organisations have a very different definition of the term. Also, I have not come across a definition of ‘ A whole school approach to mental health’. There is information out there which talks about the benefits the approach will bring, and what practice may look like but no definition.


Something Missing

As a methodical professional that continuously reflects on practice it struck me that by not having a definition of the whole school approach to mental health it was impacting on our (wider community championing this approach) ability communicate and educate people about this approach and how it can be implemented.

If you think about it, when we attend training the facilitator usually sets the scene with a definition and follows this up with statistics. In this case we have the statistics and some guidance around what practice may look like but no definition. As a result, practice is varied nationally, and the term is loosely used- which can have a devastating outcome. 


The Definition

Briefly I have explained some of the terms used within the definition. This will help you to understand the key messages within the definition and link the ‘theory’ to practice.

‘A Culture’ – This approach is the most effective when the school creates a culture that is nurturing, inclusive, relationship focused and empathic. The culture is so important because this helps to attract quality staff, sets the values and expectations and it will create a sustainable approach that will support future generations.

‘School Community’- This refers to the individuals the school comes in contact with. For example, students, caregivers and educational staff. 

‘Evidence Based practice’ – It is very important that schools used updated evidence and research to inform their practice, especially when we are supporting the community’s mental health and using early intervention approaches. It is also crucial that schools measure the impact of their work to ensure credible interventions are being used.

‘These practices are embedded within the curriculum, policies and procedures across the school’ – A culture can effectively be formed when it penetrates through everything. Mental health practices cannot be done in isolation. It has to be integrated into the school system and the curriculum. This also brings together health and education.

Inclusive - Everyone has a mental health, and everyone’s needs will be different. Therefore, this approach is focused on creating inclusivity within the school setting. This model aims to build internal capacity so the school can support the individual within the school setting within the support from mental health professionals.

Flexible – There has to be an element of flexibility within the practices to ensure schools can meet the individual needs. This gives permission to educational staff and system to allow for flexibility within policies and procedures. This flexibility ensures that individuals mental health needs can be met alongside their educational needs.


Behind the Scenes

This definition has been informed by over 10 years of clinical experience and working within a variety of school settings. My practice has also been informed by Public Health England’s Recommendations, The Green Paper and Department of Education’s strategy. My approach has also been shaped by the reality of working in schools, the feedback from education staff, students and caregivers. And of course, measuring the impact of the work we do at Innovating Minds.


What’s next?

If you would like to comment or provide feedback on the definition and/or article, please email info@innovatingmindscic.com


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