In Theresa May’s first speech addressing health, the Prime Minister focused on mental health issues in young people, which she described as “dangerously disregarded” – but how can we tackle these challenging issues?
The prevalence of mental health issues
The government has stated that one in four people has a mental health disorder at some stage in their life and that this costs the country an estimated £105 billion annually. Half of these difficulties arise by the age of 14 and 75% of mental health problems occur by the time a person reaches 18 years old. These figures clearly root national mental health concerns within our school age, pre-adult populations. Professionals who work within the education sector have a powerful influence on the psychological well-being of our country.
Challenging the ‘Burning Injustice’
The Prime Minister spoke to the Charity Commission about the lack of support for people with mental health problems, and promised to challenge the “enormous stigma” which is still fundamentally associated with this type of health issue. Theresa May outlined how mental health has historically been regarded as a secondary concern, comparative to physical health. Her vision of challenging this “burning injustice” in attitudes could vastly change the psycho-cultural environment, create real change and “go right to the heart of our humanity”. With strong calls to redress this imbalance in social attitudes, the question is: how do we do this?
Information, Education & Opportunity
Educating people about the prevalence of mental health difficulties can go some way to alleviate a stigmatised view of them, as can sharing information for this purpose. There needs to be opportunity for access to psychological services and currently this brings with it long waiting times and higher demands than there are provisions.
The National Children’s Bureau released an important document (Stirling and Emery, 2016) in which its authors illustrate the evidence base and approaches which have been shown to be effective from recent research. One of the most important recommendations from this document is that an effective policy of universal and targeted support is essential in promoting well-being – but what exactly does this mean?
Universal & Targeted Support
‘Universal’ refers to care across the whole school; a coherent, solid base of positive and supportive work which is designed to develop a culture of connectedness, warmth and compassion. This is preventative work which should include the development of emotional and psychological skills which improve resilience, and also identify individuals who are in difficulty or at risk of falling into such troubles. This kind of universal care should also focus on the well-being of staff, with special emphasis on staff stress levels and developing ways of managing this. Staff should also be trained in child development stages and be able to identify when there are predictable periods of transition developmentally.
Alongside this whole-school universal approach, there should be well-developed strategies and programmes with targeted implementation when individuals are seen to be in direct need. Public Health England figures (2015) illustrate the widespread need within a typical class of thirty 15 year olds.
Their evidence found that:
- Three pupils could have a mental disorder
- 10 have witnessed their parents separate
- One has experienced the death of a parent
- Seven have been bullied
- Six are self-harming.
Children who are experiencing these kinds of complex issues would likely benefit from targeted, specialist interventions, embedded within a universal framework as described above.
Recent coverage of these needs within our schools has brought the topic of children’s mental health to the forefront of dialogues around health and education. Although the need is great and the task at hand may seem daunting, this is an exciting opportunity for schools to meet the challenge set out by the Prime Minister. Change can feel unsettling but it is something to be embraced when it fosters new vitality, warmth and compassion in our schools. There are services available which can assist educational providers in creating these kinds of supportive environments which promote emotional well-being and mental health support.
The Emotional and Trauma Support (ETS) team at One Education are happy to answer any questions about how schools can achieve this and provide advice and guidance about the therapeutic interventions that we offer. Send us an email on 0844 967 1111.
Lavis, P. and Robinson, C. (2015). Promoting children and young people's emotional health and wellbeing. A whole school and college approach.. 1st ed. [ebook] Children and Young People's Mental Health Coalition, Public Health England.
Stirling, S. and Emery, H. (2016). A whole school framework for emotional well-being and mental health. 1st ed. [ebook] London: National Children's Bureau.