School nurses’ perspectives on managing mental health problems in children and young people

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Abstract

Aims and objectives.

To explore the views of school nurses regarding mental health problems in young people and their potential for engaging in mental health work with this client group.

Background.

Mental health problems in children and young people are an important public health issue. Universal children's services play a key role in identifying and managing these problems and, while school nurses have an important function in this work, little is known about their views on this aspect of their role.

Design.

A qualitative research design employing focus group methodology.

Method.

School nurses (n = 33) were purposively sampled from four school nursing teams in two English cities for a series of focus groups. The focus group data were audio-recorded, transcribed and subsequently analysed using ‘framework’.

Results.

Four principal themes emerged from the data. In these themes, school nurses were found to value their involvement with the mental health of young people, recognising this as an important area of practice. Several obstacles to their work in this area were identified: heavy workloads, professional rivalries, a lack of confidence and limited education and training opportunities. The importance of support from local specialist mental health teams was emphasised.

Conclusions.

School nurses can be engaged in mental health work though, as public health specialists, their role should focus on health promotion, assessment, signposting and early intervention activities. To facilitate mental health work, school nurses are able to draw on established interpersonal skills and supportive networks; however, workload and a lack of confidence need to be managed and it is important that they are supported by constructive relationships with local specialist mental health teams.

Relevance to clinical practice.

This study has implications for nurses and healthcare practitioners interested in enhancing the mental health of children and young people in school settings.

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