Young Peoples Mental Health Needs Support

May 22, 2016 at 1:22 pm (Mental health, Parenting, Politics, Teaching) ()

The axing of Natasha Devon’s role as school’s mental health champion was a real blow for young people in this country.  It sends the message that the government does not recognise the issues of mental health in schools when in fact it is a ticking time bomb. Mental health problems affect about 1 in 10 children and young people. Why schools now?  Why is it different from the past? Why can’t young people cope in the way that generations prior to them did?  As I see it there are four main factors.

Firstly awareness – the 21st Century has been a truly excellent time in the history of Psychology and symptoms of depression, anxiety and other conditions are far more often picked up than they were in the past.  Stephen Fry’s autobiography Moab is my Washpot is particularly good for highlighting this.

Secondly social media.  Think back to when you were a teenager.  Think of the worst most humiliating thing that happened to you.  Now imagine it’s on Facebook or Youtube and is there forever and people can keep linking back to it.  That is the world that everyone born in the 21st Century is living in.  Do not underestimate the horrors of social media on the young.  I thank god all the time that it did not exist when I was a teenager.  Text messaging caused me enough problems. (Don’t ask – at least not on the internet)

One and two are symptoms of the world and there is very little we can do about it.  But three and four are where the government has a responsibility to improve the situation and the sacking of Natasha Devon becomes unforgiveable.

The third factor as I see it is that teachers are at breaking point.  Yes, yes I rant about this all the time but it pains me to see the stress that my former colleagues are still under.  Everyone I have seen since I left my job has said how much better I look – this is largely because the terrible eczema I had developed on my eyelids in the last year has completely disappeared.  My eczema has always been stress related.  The last time I had it, before this year, was in my final year of university. The teaching job had got so stressful my body felt it had to tell me.  But it’s not just me.  Nor is it my lovely friends who are still working so hard they are struggling to maintain their sanity. One in ten teachers have been prescribed anti-depressants as a direct response to their job.  That article highlights all the statistics but the key point is that teachers are suffering more stress than they ever have before.  It is undoubtable that this is conveyed onto the students.

But finally the key point is the stress that the students are under.  The stress that academic achievement is the only route to follow, that there are no jobs waiting for them when they leave and that they will be considered a failure if they do not achieve the government set targets for themselves. This is what Natasha Devon was highlighting when she lost her job – that children as young as 12 have developed high levels of stress over standardised testing.  I know everyone is bored of being told how good Finland’s education system is but it shows that testing and forcing children into box ticking exercises is not the only way to educate them.

So why should we care? Aside from being decent human beings who do not want to see children suffering there are practical economic reasons to care. 90% of prisoners have at least one mental disorder and the prison suicide rate is one of the highest in the world, so these high levels of stress may well be increasing the number of young people getting involved in crime. The biggest killer of people in their twenties (i.e. those just emerging from the schools system) is self harm.  A shocking situation and one that can definitely be seen as a direct consequence of the lack of mental health support young people are given.

So what can we do?  Keep putting pressure on MP’s to ensure their is support for young people.  CAMHS are sporadic in their effectiveness but at least they do provide focused support for young people.  The real problem happens when those young people reach 18 and no longer have support.  I have tried to help students transition to adult mental health services in the past when they are leaving school and it is shocking how little support they have.  So if you wish to do something practical I urge you to sign the petition below which has only two weeks left to get enough signatures to get a response from the government  https://petition.parliament.uk/petitions/114608

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