The Ministerial Foreword in the Government Response (DOH/ DfE, 2018) to the Consultation on the Green Paper - Transforming Children and Young People’s Mental Health Provision,published in December 2017, states that:
Childhood should be the happiest time in a person’s life, yet for thousands of children who develop mental illness in childhood or adolescence, the reality can be very different. One in ten (around 850,000) children and young people have a diagnosable mental health condition. These illnesses can have a devastating impact on their physical health, their relationships and their future prospects. The challenge often extends into a person’s adult life, with half of all mental health conditions beginning before the age of 14. (p.3)
Mental ill health in young people appears to be increasing. There is a link between social deprivation and mental ill health. Adverse childhood experiences (ACEs), including abuse, neglect and insecure attachments with primary caregivers also contribute to poor mental health. However, school factors also play a role. Young people are learning at a time when expectations and pressures on them have never been higher. Revisions to the National curriculum, the emphasis on the ‘knowledge rich curriculum’ and high stakes examinations have increased the demands on students. The emphasis on terminal examinations that test students’ abilities to recall subject content has also resulted in increased stress.
Young people are worried about what their futures will look like. The economy is unstable and jobs not guaranteed. Higher education is a costly investment, to which some young people cannot financially commit. Family contexts, particularly those that are financially deprived, can be challenging for young people and relationships between young people and parents can be volatile when parents experience stress or have their own mental health needs.
In addition, the growth of social media in recent years has resulted in young people becoming addicted to their phones. Cyberbullying, body image concerns related to social media use and fear of missing out can result in the development of mental ill health. The pressure to share personal data and to respond instantly to messages can also place significant stress on young people.
Statistics about the prevalence of mental ill health in young people are worrying:
- 1 in 6 young people will experience an anxiety condition at some point in their lives;
- 5 people in your class may be living with anxiety;
- 13.3% of 16 – 19 year olds and 15.8% of 20 – 24 year olds have suffered from anxiety;
- 1.7% of 16 – 19 year olds and 2.2% of 20 - 24 year olds have suffered from a depressive episode;
- 5 out of every 100 teenagers are thought to have some form of depression that requires clinical treatment. appropriate treatment is thought to affect around every 5 out of 100 teenagers.
- There has been a 68% rise in rates of self-harm among girls aged 13 to 16 since 2011;
- In the UK between 2010 and 2015 suicide rates among 15 to 19 year olds rose from 3.2 to 5.4 per 100,000.
In relation to young people who identify as LGBTQ+
- 52% of bullied LGBT students feel that bullying has had a negative effect on their plans for future education, and 68% of bullied trans children and young people also feel this way
- 80% trans young people have self-harmed, as have 60% of LGB students;
- 92% of trans young people have considered suicide and more than 40% of trans young people have attempted to take their own life, as have 20% of LGB-identifying young people;
- 45%, including 64% of trans pupils, are bullied for being LGBT in Britain’s schools;
- 50% of LGBT children and young people hear homophobic slurs ‘frequently’ or ‘often’ in schools;
(Bradlow et al, 2017)
In relation to internet use:
- Seven in 10 young people have experienced cyberbullying;
- 37% of young people experience cyberbullying on a frequent basis;
- Young people are twice as likely to be bullied on Facebook than on any other social network;
- 91% of young people who reported cyber bullying said that no action was taken.
Addressing these issues requires a whole school approach. Young people need access to a mental health curriculum to support them in developing their understanding of how to maintain positive mental health. They also need to know about the importance of seeking help and listening to others. In addition, they need a digital curriculum which provides them with the skills that they need to keep safe online and which educates them about their responsibilities to others as digital citizens. Schools which create positive school cultures help to foster a sense of belonging. Staff who work in schools need access to high quality professional development to enable them to identify the signs and symptoms of mental ill health. A universal approach to identifying needs will help to ensure that young people without visible signs of mental ill health are still able to be identified. Some young people require targeted group or individual interventions to address their mental health needs. External services, including health and social care, need to be properly funded and resourced so that schools can benefit from working collaboratively with specialist staff.
However, whilst schools can make a significant difference to mental health outcomes in children and young people, they cannot resolve the issues on their own. Parents play a key role in providing their children with positive, safe, stable and nurturing environments. Social media companies play a critical role in keeping children safe online. Advertising companies play an essential role in encouraging young people to develop body confidence. Schools which invest in young people’s mental health will reap the rewards. Children and young people cannot learn effectively if they are not mentally healthy. Mental ill health impacts on both attendance and academic attainment. Whilst investments in mental health provision will bring benefits in relation to these, the most important reason for investing in it is that it is the right thing to do – it keeps young people safe and healthy and this will enable them to thrive.
Bradlow, J., Bartram, F., Guasp, A., and Jadva, V. (2017), School Report: The experiences of lesbian, gay, bi and trans young people in Britain’s schools in 2017, Stonewall.
Royal Society for Public Health (RSPH), (2017), #StatusOfMind Social media and young people's mental health and wellbeing, https://www.rsph.org.uk/uploads/assets/uploaded/62be270a-a55f-4719-ad668c2ec7a74c2a.pdf