Seeing the GP: Advice and tips for young people

Healthcare provided at school

Here, people talk about:

•    school nurses
•    counselling

School nurses

School nurses are qualified and registered nurses who offer support and advice on a range of health issues. They also carry out immunisation (injections) and screening programmes. They’re often the first place pupils go to if they’re feeling unwell or need health advice while at school. The school nurse’s day-to-day role varies, depending on the type of school. As well as individual health advice and care, it can include supporting schools with health advice for the whole school, such as healthy eating and exercise advice.

Hazzan recalled having injections at school from the school nurse, and that teachers at his school often reminded pupils that pastoral care was available as well as a school counsellor.
Isaac recalled seeing a school nurse when he’d had nose bleeds and when he’d tripped and fallen. At college, there were first aiders available for minor injuries or illnesses. When Siobhan was feeling depressed and was self-harming, she spoke to her sociology teacher first and later the school nurse. She was good but Siobhan felt that the nurse knew more about sexual health than mental health.
Ambeya and Rowan felt that it would be good for school nurses to play a bigger role within schools. Ambeya would like health to be a bigger part of school education, and felt that ‘talking about your health issues at school was better than talking about your health issues at the doctor or with your GP because, at the end of the day, you’re in school most of your life’. She recalled that her secondary school was ‘quite resourceful ...because we kind of had every single service that a school should have’. This included a school nurse, counsellor, student support worker, and school social worker.
Rowan felt that it could be embarrassing if other pupils knew you were seeing the school nurse but that nurses should play a bigger role in schools. Shane also felt that there was ‘a stigma attached to being seen going to’ the first aid room at college and that it would be better if it wasn’t somewhere prominent.
Lara recalled that her school had a nurse and a quiet room where pupils could go if they felt unwell. But the nurses weren’t allowed to give them painkillers without parental permission. Kyle’s school had a sick bay and he recalled going there to see the nurse when he’d bruised his foot. He was worried that he might have broken a bone. He was given an ice-pack but would have liked the nurse to have reassured him more that he hadn’t broken anything.
When Sophie’s sister was having problems with anorexia, her mum suggested that Sophie should talk to the school nurse. Sophie felt that school nurses were in a good position to raise awareness of mental health and ‘make themselves known’ to students with mental health issues. Although the nurse gave her a leaflet, Sophie felt that she didn’t really know where to go for help after that. She thought that the nurse could have come across as more welcoming and understanding, and that it would be good if school nurses could help more with mental health issues.
Some people, like Paula and Louis, had never seen the school nurse and a few, like Louis, were unsure if their school had one. Jake thought that someone in the school office was trained in first aid, though wasn’t a nurse. Gentian had been to see someone who he thought could have been the school nurse when he’d had a bad stomach ache. He felt that she often didn’t believe pupils when they said they were unwell and that he’d like her to be more understanding.

Some people had occasionally seen a school nurse and felt they would have liked them to be a bit more welcoming. Lara saw one once and felt that school nurses should be a bit more patient. Peter was unsure but felt that ‘the woman in the office doubles up as a nurse’ and can get annoyed when pupils go to see her.
When Lucy started having panic attacks during lessons, she spoke to the school nurse but felt she was ‘never very helpful’. She preferred talking to the ‘pastoral person’ because sometimes ‘you just want someone to listen. And I think they [school nurses] need to be more open to listening instead of just, ‘Well, here, this will fix your problems’. Lucy felt that she could talk to the pastoral care manager about problems at home. One of her teachers was also very understanding and gave Lucy a pass that would allow her to leave lessons if she was feeling anxious.
Paula, like Ambeya, felt that it would be helpful if school nurses gave more information about the range of issues that GPs can help with, and that leaflets and flyers outside the nurse’s office would be useful. Fran, like several other people we spoke to, felt that school staff, including teachers and nurses, could do more to raise awareness of mental health. She felt that teachers could also have mental health training so that they might recognise when pupils are having problems. Auberon also felt that it was important for schools to raise awareness of mental health issues, including having people who’d had problems in the past visiting schools and giving talks.

Counsellors

Counselling is usually available free of charge to students who are at college or university. But not everyone we spoke to knew whether there was a counsellor at their school. Auberon recalled that there was ‘a very good counsellor’ at his school. There was also a nurse who he felt was good at helping with physical health problems, but the counsellor was better at helping with mental health issues.

Aphra recalled having counselling at school when she was doing her GCSE’s – she was under exam pressure and also caring for her mum. She felt that the first counsellor she spoke to was ‘very weird and very airy fairy’ but the second one was ‘lovely’. Sometimes she also spoke to the pastoral care manager, who she felt should play a more obvious role within schools. She found her ‘really personable’, friendly and empathetic. The pastoral care manager also gave Aphra a card to use if she needed a break. Aphra sometimes sat and worked in the pastoral manager’s office instead of in the classroom.
Nikki, who was bullied at school from a young age, had counselling at school from around the age of six, and then later at secondary school. She found it hard to open up and trust the counsellor, but felt that it helped talking to someone. When she started hearing voices, the counsellor advised her to see the GP.
Sophie’s school counsellor also advised her to see the GP when, after around eight sessions, Sophie wasn’t feeling any better. She felt that it would be helpful if school counselling services were better advertised – she only found out about them through a friend.

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