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Supporting students to manage their own mental health

To help deliver the right mental health support to young people, schools and colleges across Bolton have worked together with commissioners in the local authority and introduced Brain in Hand. 

Teams from across Bolton, one of Greater Manchester's largest boroughs, came together to develop a locality plan which would target early intervention support: with most mental health problems experienced by adults having started before the age of 18, the combined teams hoped to be able to support young people more effectively and secure better outcomes for them throughout the whole of their lives.

Implementing Brain in Hand in five different educational institutions involved support teams from each setting working with Brain in Hand staff to establish how best the system could be integrated into existing practices and pathways. Each institution needed to buy into using Brain in Hand if it was to achieve the greatest possible success; staff needed to understand how to help students get the most out of it, and how it would enhance the support they provide to their students.


ESSA Academy staff and students talk about Brain in Hand

Once staff training was complete and the work had been done to identify how Brain in Hand would best integrate with existing support, students were set up on the system. Each new user worked through a Brain in Hand workbook designed to encourage them, with the help of their supporters, to think about their skills and goals, and how to use their strengths to overcome any problems on their own. This information was then programmed into their individual Brain in Hand account, ensuring that their support was completely personal to them.

For two-thirds of the students using Brain in Hand in Bolton, anxiety was the primary challenge they wanted to overcome. Other motivations included organisation and planning, dealing better with social situations, managing anger better, or ensuring that they stuck to routines so that their day didn't get off track.



Each pupil’s Brain in Hand was linked to their school or college support team; staff members could see everyone’s anxiety status at a glance from a dashboard. When anyone needed extra help, the team would receive an alert. Each pupil was also given the option to link their parents or guardians to the system, so that they could also see how the student was coping and receive the alert outside of school hours. This enhanced communication between the student, the school, and those supporting them at home, creating a package of wraparound care.

Half of the students using Brain in Hand said that they had made positive life changes as a result of the system; 79% reported that Brain in Hand had been useful, with consistent themes including that they felt more in control and more confident. Students said that Brain in Hand was useful for:

  • Self-management, allowing them to calm themselves and stay in lessons instead of leaving to seek help
  • Organisation - one pupil reported better adherence to medication schedules, and another said that it had helped them plan for exams better
  • Understanding - spotting triggers and increasing self-awareness enabled one student to step down from CAMHS support
  • Discretion - students widely said that they liked how Brain in Hand allowed them to discreetly ask for help without becoming openly distressed in a way that others would notice.

Students could be seen by support staff before situations escalated, preventing more serious incidents of distress and allowing learning to continue more seamlessly.

Martin Heuter, Commissioning Lead, Department of People Services, Bolton Council and Bolton CCG said: 'Brain in Hand is speeding up responses and joining up support around individuals, as well as giving people access to the support they need when they need it.'

Staff at Bolton College also support the success of Brain in Hand. Janet Bishop, Head of Learner Support at Bolton College, said:

'Brain in Hand has been really useful in engendering independence in the students. Staff have told me that they see the students growing in confidence, developing their own strategies for their own everyday problems they encounter. It’s meant we can step back and parents and carers have said that it is making their lives easier. Students are gaining the confidence to start thinking about new things that they can do that they never found possible before. We are chuffed to bits with Brain in Hand.'


Staff and student perspectives from Bolton College