Whether your child has a diagnosed mental health problem or is just displaying symptoms that could be a cause for concern, both may be reasons parents decide to keep their child home from school, according to charity Young Minds.
Caroline Noakes, 36, from Kent, has kept her 12-year-old son Philip home from school due to symptoms relating to PTSD.
“My son is currently waiting for counselling for PTSD, he has night terrors which leave him paralysed, has mild depression and has recently started with auditory and visual hallucinations,” she told HuffPost UK.
“I do keep my son off school for the sake of his mental health, and especially if he has an exacerbation of his symptoms.”
Noakes explained that while her son is awaiting an appointment through the NHS to help him deal with his PTSD, she wants to ensure he has the space he needs to talk to about how he is feeling and steer clear of things that may negatively impact his mental health.
“Although I do keep him off if I think it’s needed, I always try and encourage him to go to school, even though most nights now he doesn’t get more than four or five hours sleep,” she said.
“His school is fully informed and also has put help in place for him in case the symptoms get worse while he is there.”
Ruth Eaton, 33, from Cheshire, has also kept her five-year-old daughter Eleanor off school for reasons relating to her mental health. Eleanor was diagnosed with anxiety at just three years old.
Eaton said her daughter will often become tired, lose concentration, and become very anxious and introverted. This leads to nightmares, sleepless nights and undue stress.
“When making a decision to keep her off school I look at many things,” explained Eaton. “Mainly - would it be productive to send her in to school or would she become disruptive?
“When I have kept her off, each time she has had a restless night beforehand and has expressed to her dad or myself how she is feeling.
“As she is five, she does struggle to express how she is really feeling. Overall the decision is made around what is best for Eleanor. Her health will always come first.”
It’s important for parents to make the same kind of judgements about whether their child is well enough to go in or whether they need to stay at home, as they would if their child was physically unwell.
If you have genuine concerns about your child’s mental health - whether they have been diagnosed with an illness or not - you should speak to the school about keeping your child at home and follow up your concerns by seeking professional help as soon as possible.
“This would usually mean that if a child is struggling with their moods or thoughts and they are presenting with symptoms that may indicate a mental health problem, you should take them to your GP,” Saddleton said.
“This isn’t to get them ‘signed off’ from school, but to try to address the problem and what’s causing it.”
It’s really important to be open and clear with your child’s school about why they’re off." Emma Saddleton, parents’ helpline operations manager at YoungMinds
If you do feel like your child would benefit from staying home from school due to their mental health, being transparent with the school is vital.
“It’s really important to be open and clear with your child’s school about why they’re off, what the symptoms are, and why you feel they’re not well enough to go in,” explained Saddleton.
“Because of the stigma around mental health and a fear of getting into trouble with the school, parents may feel tempted to tell the school their child is physically unwell – but it’s much better to be honest.
“If the school doesn’t know what the problem is, they have no way of putting the right support in place and supporting the family to identify how and when the child can and should return to school.”
Noakes said when Philip is off school, she encourages him to complete any homework that he may have outstanding or do some revision of some of his lessons.
“I also try and get him to leave the house for a while to get some fresh air,” she added.
“We will take some time out and try and talk through what might of made things worse and see if we can come to some kind of conclusion as to how to make it better in the short term.”
Eaton added that Eleanor has done a variety of things while being off school for her mental health, including watching films, going for a walk in the park or baking. “Generally what we do is up to Eleanor,” she said.
When HuffPost UK contacted the Department for Education about their advice on taking mental health days off school, they responded by sending the announcement of a consultation on funding for mental health provisions in schools.
The announcement, released in December 2017, stated that children in England will be able to access mental health support at school or college under Government proposals to transform services for young people.
The Government set out ambitious plans in a green paper to increase mental health support and provide earlier access to services, with over £300 million funding available to take the proposals forward.
If you are worried your child’s mental health issues may affect their performance at school, let the school know and ensure you have contacted your GP for professional advice.
For more information and support:
PAPYRUS: Children and parents can contact HOPELineUK for advice and support. It is confidential and you will not be judged. Call: 0800 0684141, text: 07786209697 or email: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Childline: Remind your child that Childline is there to give them free, confidential support and advice, 24 hours a day on 0800 1111 or at www.childline.org.uk.
YoungMinds: The parents helpline offers free, confidential online and telephone support, including information and advice, to any adult worried about the emotional problems, behaviour or mental health of a child or young person up to the age of 25. Call: 0808 8025544.
Place2Be: The leading national children’s mental health charity working in schools. They provide in-school counselling support and expert training to improve the emotional wellbeing of pupils, families, teachers and school staff.