Many school staff that I’ve worked with have told me that in their school eating disorders were a taboo topic either because the school was loathe to admit there was a problem or because they’re worried that talking about eating disorders will lead to an epidemic. Other staff simply feel uncomfortable or out of their depth when talking about mental health issues.
We must get more comfortable talking about eating disorders
In order to effectively support young people with eating disorders at your school, it’s important that the taboo is tackled. We simply must get more comfortable talking about eating disorders, not doing so can cost lives as I discovered when talking to a PE teacher:
“…Everything came to a head one day when she collapsed at school. She was rushed to hospital but there was nothing they could do. She died of a heart attack. It turned out that there were five or six members of staff, myself included, who’d been worried about her but we all assumed that someone else was taking care of it – it wasn’t exactly the kind of thing we discussed in the staffroom. We’ve since created a policy and we now routinely discuss children whose mental health is a cause for concern.”
So you see, it’s vital that staff feel comfortable talking about eating disorders. Here are some ideas to help:
Offer all staff eating disorders training
Some members of staff are likely to need more extensive training than others due to differing roles, but as a minimum all members of staff should have a basic understanding of what an eating disorder is and some of the warning signs to look out for. This could be done in as little as an hour. This hour long investment will mean staff feel more confident discussing eating disorders and may be able to spot potential cases before they develop into something more serious.
Let staff know how they can offer proactive support to sufferers
This is especially important when you have known cases of eating disorders in school, or where you have a student who has returned from treatment. Staff can often feel very uncomfortable with little idea of how to help. By providing really practical ideas and strategies for them, you will help them to realise that they are able to offer an important input and are in a great position to support the student.
Have a clear policy
Your school should have a clear eating disorders policy – this may form part of another policy e.g. your child protection policy. The key thing is that everyone should know who to refer eating disorders concerns on to. In schools where no one talks about eating disorders and there is no clear policy being implemented, cases of eating disorders will often fall through the cracks until they have reached a critical stage.
Routinely talk about mental health concerns
In meetings where you address behavioural and academic concerns about pupils, try and introduce the idea of also discussing any mental health concerns you have. You are in a great position to offer help and support to your pupils, but not if their problems are ignored.
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