The Department for Education and wider government agencies call for specialist training so that professionals working with children and young people are better equipped to support their mental health needs.
Current rates of mental health problems mean that, among pupils age five to sixteen, one in ten have a diagnosable mental health condition. That equates to three students in every classroom, plus an additional four to five children or young people per class who are likely to be struggling, psychologically or with their emotional wellbeing (ONS: 2015).
A government report published just this week outlines some of their proposals in regards to designing and delivering support for children and young people’s mental health. The report analyses evidence related to the sort of help offered to school-age children and reminds us of the importance of early intervention when working with the wellbeing and mental health needs of children and young people.
New trends in youth behaviour
There are many concerns for our children and young people in today’s society. These influences are diverse and complex, ranging from concerns about home and family life to school and exam results, all framed by the modern pressure of growing-up online. The new Department for Education report details how children and young people are more likely to seek initial advice for mental health issues or concerns from a friend or by going online than ever before (DfE, 2017). These trends point to the fact that these provisions need careful management and supervision from adult professionals such as school staff who exist around these peer-led and virtual support structures.
This latest report focuses on what help is most beneficial for schools, colleges and youth organisations who are well placed to cultivate the supportive environments for emotional and psychological wellbeing necessary for children and young people to thrive. It states that training is imperative in this area, both for young people and the supporting adults. In the research, conducted through focus groups and surveys, virtually all individuals asked felt that training around mental health and emotional wellbeing was vital. It was also noted that this training needs to be high quality and include sharing knowledge about how to obtain more specialist support as needed (DfE, 2017). Results acknowledged the fact that young people’s needs change over time and that this requires well developed referral pathways and connections to professional and clinical support services outside of school (DfE, 2017).
Prevalence of mental health problems
Half of all mental health problems present before a child is fifteen and seventy five percent manifest before an individual reaches the age of twenty five (Birleson and Vance, 2008). It is clear that how we deal with the mental health of children has huge repercussions societally, with higher incidences of anti-social behaviour, crime and poorer outcomes in terms of education and personal relationships reported alongside higher rates of untreated mental health issues (Tower Hamlets CCG, 2013). These factors are inextricably linked and research has demonstrated that schools need both targeted and universal approaches to mental health and emotional wellbeing (NCB, 2016). When schools offer this dual approach to wellbeing and emotional health, attending to both high level needs and fostering a whole-school supportive culture, they are able to facilitate the biggest impact in overall happiness and feelings of security which has a positive impact on pupil attainment throughout pupils’ educational trajectories (PHE, 2014; Weare, 2015).
Another report released in January of this year looked specifically into the impact of body image anxiety in young people in the UK (Somebody Like Me, 2017). This research project looked at over 2000 young people and 500 teaching staff from across the UK and measured the impact of body image anxiety on school-age children. The results of this research are shocking and demonstrate the widespread nature of anxiety stemming from body-image concerns, moderated in chief by persistent exposure to celebrity and media culture, especially through regular use of social media. The findings show that these pressures are frequently and unhealthily internalised by young people with a number feeling forced to take extreme measures to try and achieve these ideals:
- More than a third of young people surveyed said that they would do whatever it took to look good
- Ten percent would opt for surgery to change their body
- Three in five (57%) have been on one or would go on a diet, in order to change the way that they look (Somebody Like Me, 2017).
Although most young people may not develop extreme behaviour to manage these pressures, an inability to escape the huge influence of media and a focus on image over substance has led to a great deal of school-age young people feeling hopeless. To cope with this they often start isolating themselves through exasperation at their inability to fit into continually reinforced and unattainable moulds. The project found that in order to try and address these issues, work needs to be done to tackle the value placed on appearance and the strict body-image ideals which are relentlessly presented to young people through media (Somebody Like Me, 2017).
Problem solving and education
So how can we address this complex problem? Never before have the children in our schools been under such multifaceted pressures, especially in terms of how they present themselves outwardly to the rest of the world. They are living at a time when they don’t just have to worry about how they fit in amongst their peers and at school, but additionally within a much more globally connected web of social networks both on and offline.
Educators and education professionals are in a position of great responsibility, as we develop strategies to support and protect our young people and grow alongside them during this age of continual technical revolution and digital visibility. One avenue which we are being asked to explore by government is CPD and training with a focus on mental health and wellbeing. It is only through being informed that we can provide both a supportive climate for our young people and the knowledge required to access specialist support when needed.
Unfortunately, many in our schools are struggling under the demands of education and home life. Their preoccupation with image and appearance, fed by our digital age and celebrity culture, has led to their young bodies becoming battlefields on which they play out the many anxieties and concerns born of modern living. There is much we can do to support them through these challenges and primarily this starts with educating ourselves.
Knowledge is power
Beating Body Battles is a training developed by One Education psychotherapists and educational psychologists in response to the demands on youngsters and professionals within the education sector. By attending training courses like this, adults who work with children and adolescents can equip themselves with more robust understanding of the demands on our children and the psychological mechanisms which underpin these unhealthy attitudes.
One Education has also recently partnered with Team Mental Health (an organisation founded by two consultant psychiatrists and an executive headteacher) who are delivering Advanced Mental Health training on 25 May in Manchester.
Birleson, P. and Vance, A. (2008) Developing the 'youth model' in mental health services, Australia’s Psychiatry. 2008 Feb; 16(1):22-6.
Department for Education, (2017). Peer support and children and young people’s mental health Research review March 2017 Independent Social Research (ISR). RR671: Department for Education.
National Children's Bureau, (2016). A whole school framework for emotional well-being and mental health – A self-assessment and improvement tool for school leaders. [online] London: National Children's Bureau. Available at: http://www.ncb.org.uk/partnership-well-being-and-mental-health-schools [Accessed 30 Mar. 2017].
ONS (2015) Insights into children’s mental health and well-being [online]. Available at: http://webarchive.nationalarchives.gov.uk/20160105160709/http://www.ons.gov.uk/ons/d cp171766_420239.pdf [Accessed 27 Apr. 2015].
Public Health England, (2014). The link between pupil health and wellbeing and attainment. London: PHE publications.
Somebody Like Me. A report into the impact of body image anxiety on young people in the UK. (2017). 1st ed. [ebook] London: YMCA. [Accessed 27 Mar. 2017].
Tower Hamlets CCG (2013) Tower Hamlets Mental health Strategy Supporting Document – Evidence reviews, August 2013, Tower Hamlets Health and Wellbeing Board [online]. Available at http://www.towerhamletsccg.nhs.uk/Get_Involved/Evidence%20Reviews%20to%20supp ort%20Tower%20Hamlets%20Mental%20Health%20Strategy.pdf [Accessed 27 Apr. 2015].
Weare, K. (2015) What works in promoting social and emotional wellbeing and responding to mental health problems in schools? Advice for schools and framework document. London: National Children’s Bureau.