Our 2018 programme for government set out a £250 million package of measures to support positive mental health and prevent ill health. As part of that, we are committed to the creation of school counsellors in every secondary school, with availability to local primary and special schools across the country.
To ensure that that commitment is met in full by September next year, we are providing around £27 million in the first two years of implementation. That will support the delivery and employment of counsellors to ensure that school pupils get the mental health support that they need. School counselling will enhance the work that schools already do to support children and young people to learn about mental wellbeing through the curriculum for excellence.
As the First Minister knows, the exam season is now upon us. Does the First Minister share my welcome of the Scottish Association for Mental Health’s excellent testing times campaign? She will be aware that SAMH has produced a range of tips for young people on how to prepare for exams and how to manage the anxieties that exams can bring. Does the First Minister agree that any young person who feels worried or under pressure should not suffer in silence and should not be afraid to seek support?
I thank Stuart McMillan for raising the issue. I welcome the SAMH testing times campaign, which has been launched to coincide with the start of the exam period. Sitting school exams is something of a distant memory for me, but I still remember—as I am sure all members in the chamber do—the sense of stress and anxiety that was associated with those exams.
It is important that we recognise the impact that stress and anxiety about school work and exams can have on young people’s mental health. I agree whole-heartedly with Stuart McMillan that it is really important that young people who are facing exams are able to discuss their emotional wellbeing openly. If they are concerned or upset, they should speak to teachers, parents, carers or peers. All schools should help young people to develop resilience and personal coping skills, and they should have in place measures to support young people.
I thank SAMH for the advice that it has made available and, as I have done already this morning, I wish pupils who are completing assignments or taking exams over the next few weeks the very best of luck.
Neurodevelopmental disorders are a significant component of the mental health issues in our schools. Groups that represent children with dyslexia, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, autism and other conditions regularly call for training on NDDs to be a mandatory component of initial teacher education and continuing professional development. Will the First Minister outline how her Government will ensure that all teachers are trained in teaching children with neurodevelopmental disorders?
I remind the chamber of my own diagnosis.
The member raises an important issue. Neurodevelopmental conditions are an important part of our discussions about mental health, and teacher training is extremely important. The Deputy First Minister advises me that the providers of initial teacher education were at the recent summit on autism. Such training is very much part of initial teacher education, but I am sure that the education secretary would be very happy to discuss with the member whether further steps could be taken to embed such training even more firmly.
That is an important issue. Generally, access to services is often more challenging in rural areas, for obvious reasons, and that can particularly be the case with access to mental health services. It is important that services are available on an equitable basis. For example, it is important that there is proper provision of counsellors in secondary schools in every part of the country. Some of the online and digital services that NHS 24 makes available are helpful specifically to people in rural areas who might find it more difficult to access physical services. I give an assurance that access to services for people in rural areas is a core part of the planning that the national health service and other agencies do to ensure equity of access.