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Mental Health Awareness Week: Are your pupils surviving or thriving?

Blog posted by: Alexandra Shaw, PR Officer, Monday 08 May 2017.

Led by the Mental Health Foundation, the theme of this year’s Mental Health Awareness Week, currently underway from 8 – 12 May, is aiming to prompt a national conversation about what we can do as communities, schools, families and individuals to move from survive to thrive. They have said that “This year rather than ask why so many people are living with mental health problems, we will seek to uncover why too few of us are thriving with good mental health.”.

It’s therefore a good time to look at the status of mental health among young people, and the extent of the role that schools can, or should, play in supporting those that need help.  

A report commissioned by the Mental Health Foundation found that only a small minority of people (13%) report living with high levels of good mental health. The state of the UK’s mental health, positive treatment routes and awareness permeates all levels of society, across genders, race, religion and, perhaps most worryingly, age. Currently, one in ten children has a diagnosable mental health illness, yet 70% don’t receive support or help early enough.[1] .  

The good news is that the recognition of mental health conditions as true illnesses is more common now than ever, but unfortunately there’s still a lack of understanding around conditions like depression and anxiety – the two most commonly diagnosed problems. This is exacerbated further by the limited resources with which schools are able to address issues.

The Guardian has previously reported that almost a quarter of a million children and young people are receiving help from NHS mental health services, showing “the scale of the growing crisis in young people’s mental well-being”. Experts have blamed growing pressures such as social media and the need to excel at school – which can lead to behavioural problems, anxiety, lack of sleep and disturbed eating patterns – plus issues of poverty and family breakdown in some cases. The Guardian stated that “the figures have sparked calls for ministers, schools and the NHS to do much more to prevent, identify and treat mental disorders in young people”.

This is, and always has been, important. However, with schools stretched in terms of time, resource and finances, they need to have the necessary support from the government and places or individuals to which they can refer pupils identified as needing help.

Worryingly, in light of these findings, a further report in May, this year, by the Guardian stated that funding pressures have seen schools cutting mental health services to plug funding gaps. An enquiry by the health and education select committees found that “Services to support well-being are the first thing to go when budgets are under pressure”.

Health secretary Jeremy Hunt has said previously that the government is prioritising tackling the problems of mental ill health in children and young people, and is funding an expansion of services. Although this seemed promising, tangible results are yet to be seen and with the cuts that have been reported we may not see a change to the landscape anytime soon.

In raising awareness of the startling number of children and young people affected by poor mental health, it provides compelling evidence for access to adequate trained staff to support them.

Teachers, of course, play a key role in pupil well-being and, with appropriate training and confidence, schools can be well-placed to deliver mental health ‘first aid’ when required, such as spotting early signs of a problem and encouraging pupils to seek help.

With half of mental illnesses manifesting themselves before the age of 14, and children diagnosed with mental health conditions suffering significantly in later life because of it, it’s essential to identify and address the problem at an early age. With this in mind, there needs to be a basic understanding of mental health conditions in schools.

Ideally, it should be embedded into the curriculum to make sure young people understand what they or their peers might be suffering from. By educating them on the importance of mental health, we can prevent young people from feeling isolated or being bullied because of it. Many have recommended that making personal, social and health education (PSHE) compulsory will help tackle this issue, bringing problems faced outside of school to the forefront for young people.

However, teachers, pastoral staff and pupils shouldn’t be expected to go any further than this ‘first aid’ stage. Young people with diagnosable mental illnesses need medical or therapeutic care from a professional who has no conflict of interest, and it’s vital that the government recognises this and ensures there are adequate services out there to help those that need them.

As an organisation that works closely with schools and aims to create opportunities for young people from all walks of life to succeed, we at NCFE are fully supportive of Mental Health Awareness Week and of improving understanding of mental health in young people. We offer qualifications such as a Level 1 Award in Mental Health Awareness, which is aimed at learners between 14 and 16 years of age and could complement a PSHE programme.

If you’d like to speak to a member of our team, feel free to contact us on 0191 240 8822 or schools@ncfe.org.uk

[1] https://www.mentalhealth.org.uk/sites/default/files/fundamental-facts-15.pdf

 

Channel website: https://www.ncfe.org.uk/

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