More than 800 Dumfries and Galloway schoolchildren supported by counselling during coronavirus pandemic

By Marc McLean & Dumfries and Galloway Standard

More than 800 primary and secondary pupils across Dumfries and Galloway were supported by school counselling services last year as the pandemic turned their lives upside down.

The Covid restrictions and pressures of the crisis had a “significant impact on the emotional and mental wellbeing” of youngsters in the region, according to a new report.

Child psychology experts also revealed that there has been an increase in youths self-referring for help as they struggle to cope with anxiety and other mental difficulties.

The issue was discussed at Thursday’s education committee where a report was produced evaluating the impact of the area’s new Counselling In Schools project.

North West Dumfries Councillor David McKie praised the mental health support staff for the vital work they’re doing supporting children.

He said: “It must be quite traumatic at times when working with youngsters with mental-health issues.”

The report to the committee revealed the problems facing many youngsters.

It states: “The referrals received have requested support for young people who were experiencing difficulties in various aspects of their lives, these included issues related to the school environment, such as bullying and exam stress and difficulties with relationships.

“Some of the most frequent issues that young people presented were: anxiety, relationships, low mood, anger, and bereavement.

“We have found that the pandemic has had a significant impact on the emotional and mental wellbeing of the young people, seeing an increase in their anxiety or experiencing it for the first time.

“Our service has provided opportunities for young people to express their feelings, to gain a better understanding of themselves, to build their resilience, to identify skills and strategies to support their ability to address problems and pursue realistic meaningful goals.”

Between August 2020 and June 2021, the school counselling project delivered 3,559 one-to-one sessions to pupils within secondary schools.

This meant that 351 secondary youths received support after being referred by school staff, external agencies such as CAMHS, social work, or even by reaching out for help themselves.

A total of 464 pupils were seen at 10 primary schools, which involved three youth workers delivering a cognitive behavioural therapy programme over a period of eight weeks.

Councillors sitting on the education committee welcomed the additional support for struggling pupils in the region.

Annandale North Councillor Doug Fairbairn said: “Is this project going to extend further than 2023?”

Mark Molloy, the council’s service manager for young people, replied: “The project is currently funded by the Scottish Government until June 2023.

“There has been an indication there may be an extension of that as part of the government’s commitment to providing mental health support in schools.

“As part of the government’s Covid recovery plan that was released just a few days ago, there was a specific mention to continue investment within young people’s mental health.

“Certainly. we will bring another report members when we have clarity on that.”

The committee members were told that the Scottish Education Minister Shirley-Anne Sommerville recently praised the Dumfries and Galloway project in a keynote speech.

The Scottish Government has allocated almost £2m to the council to fund the Counselling In Schools project until the summer of 2023.

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