Improving the mental health support for young people

the government announced a new strategy to improve the support and counselling available in primary and secondary schools for young people with mental health conditions. Dorothy Lepkowska looks at the importance of providing adequate and timely support.

Getting help and support for her child was becoming increasing difficult for Ms Jones. Her teenage daughter had displayed anger and defiance for a couple of years, which her parents put down to adolescence. But as her behaviour deteriorated, and the family struggled to cope, they wondered where the help was coming from.

 

‘[She] was becoming a very angry child but we didn't really know why, as our family life is peaceful and loving,’ Ms Jones said. ‘Our two other children were not displaying this kind of behaviour.

 

‘The GP seemed at a loss what to do, but the school eventually referred us to child and adolescent mental health services (CAMHS) because the situation was getting out of control. [She] would run away from home and school, and turn up when she felt like it. It really took its toll on the family, but it was still nearly a year before we got to see a mental health care professional.’

 

According to a report from the Centre for Mental Health, published in 2012, about 15% of pupils aged 5 to 16 years have some sort of mental health problem that may become more series as they grow older. But in recent years, support for these children and their families has been patchy, at best, as local services were cut.

 

But families like the Jones’ may soon find it easier to access the help and support they need.

 

New government strategy Last month, the government announced a new initiative to help schools do more for children and young people with mental health problems (Department for Education, 2014).

 

The strategy, announced by Sam Gyimah, the Education and Childcare Minister, aims to improve the support and counselling available in primary and secondary schools for young people with mental health conditions, with a priority on wellbeing rather than academic performance and league tables.

 

figure ‘Mr Gyimah said he had commissioned that PSHE Association to produce resources on the best way to discuss mental health issues in the classes, to remove the stigma around the issue, and to prevent affected children feeling isolated.’

 

ISTOCKPHOTO The move follows an earlier initiative by the Department for Education, launched in October, inviting voluntary organisations to bid for a share of £25 million for projects that focus on improving young people's mental health in schools.

 

In a speech, Mr Gyimah, acknowledged the problems with the current system.

 

‘It's right that we renew our focus on the character, resilience, and wellbeing of children and young people—it's one of the department's biggest priorities over the coming months,’ he said.

 

‘So often it can feel like schools and teachers are judged purely on the results they achieve, on their standing in the league tables. But inextricably linked with academic successes are wellbeing, character, confidence—all of the ingredients that come together to create the whole child.’

 

Mr Gyimah said he had commissioned that PSHE Association to produce resources on the best way to discuss mental health issues in the classes, to remove the stigma around the issue, and to prevent affected children feeling isolated.

 

‘Where schools provide access to counselling services for their pupils, it can help develop a supportive culture, keeping pupils engaged with their peers, and with learning,’ he said.

 

There would be a new ‘departmental strategy that focuses on getting experts to distil what it is that makes for good counselling services in primary and secondary schools—and what the wider benefits can be, how we can unlock the potential of pupils, and work out when they need more specialist help’, he added.

 

‘Because we know that more than half of adults with a mental health problem were first diagnosed in childhood, and of that number, fewer than half were treated appropriately as children.’

 

The crisis in mental health services has troubled politicians in recent months. During the summer, Normal Lamb, the Care Minister said children's mental health services were ‘stuck in the dark ages’. The issue has also been mentioned by Nicky Morgan, the Education Secretary and Theresa May, the Home Secretary.

 

And earlier this year, Ministers issued advice to schools to identify and support children whose behaviour suggested there may be an underlying mental health problems, so that fewer children would be wrongly labelled as trouble-makers and lacking in discipline.

 

‘Hopefully, the government's initiative will make speed up how long it takes to see a professional. That is all most parents want—quick intervention and some answers.’

 

Joe Hayman, chief executive of the PSHE Association, said the organisation was liaising with the DfE over what form its input should take, and the matter remains under discussion.

 

However, he said that any guidance put together by the PSHE Association would almost certainly include three key areas: the promotion of positive mental health messages, helping children to learn where they should go for support for themselves or friends they may be worried about, and the need to address the stigma attached to mental health problems so that children and young people felt comfortable discussing the issue.

 

‘In our last two annual member surveys, pupil mental health has come through as the biggest priority for PSHE teachers, reflecting the huge concern about mental health across society, and we therefore look forward to working with the DfE on this issue,’ he said.

 

‘In particular, we need to emphasise to schools the key messages they need to get across to children and young people as part of age-appropriate, classroom-based activities.’

 

He added that he believed more research was needed to uncover why there appeared to be a rise in the numbers of children and young people who were affected by mental health issues. ‘Schools are being left with significant issues to face, and teachers need appropriate help and support in terms of time, resources and cooperation with other organisations,’ Mr Hayman said.

 

Sarah Jones welcomed the government's announcement. ‘One of our biggest fears in our daughter's situation was the risk that her continued behaviour might develop into something worse later,’ she said. ‘She is a bright child and academically gifted, and it is heart-breaking to see a child going through such emotional turmoil when they have so much potential to do well.

 

‘Hopefully, the government's initiative will make speed up how long it takes to see a professional. That is all most parents want—quick intervention and some answers.’

 

References Department for Education (2014) Mental health behaviour guidance to be issued to schools. https://www.gov.uk/government/news/mental-health-behaviour-guidance-to-be-issued-to-schools (accessed 30 November 2014)

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