Objective: The objective of this paper is to outline the conceptual background and strategy of intervention for a systematic and sustainable approach to mental health promotion in secondary schools.
Method: The conceptual origins of the Gatehouse Project are described in terms of the epidemiology of adolescent mental health problems, attachment theory, education reform research and health promotional theory and practice. The elements of health promotional work are described in terms of structural change and priority setting; implementation at multiple levels within the participating schools is described.
Results: The conceptual framework of the Gatehouse Project emphasises healthy attachments with peers and teachers through the promotion of a sense of security and trust, effective communication and a sense of positive self-regard based on participation in varied aspects of school and community life. A school social climate profile is derived from a questionnaire survey of students. An adolescent health team uses this information to set priorities for change within the school. Interventions may focus on the promotion of a positive social climate of the whole school or in the classroom. Curriculum-based health education is also used and based on materials that are relevant to the normal developmental experiences of teenagers. These are integrated into the mainstream curriculum and incorporate a strong component of teacher professional development. Lastly, the intervention promotes linkage between the school and broader community with a particular emphasis on the needs of young people at high risk of school drop-out.
Conclusions: Educational environments are complex systems undergoing continuous and simultaneous changes. The Gatehouse Project will provide unique information on the relationship between the social environment and the emotional wellbeing of young people. More importantly it outlines a sustainable process for building the capacity of schools to promote the social and emotional development of young people.