At last. I’m so heartened to see that awareness of issues around teenage mental health seems to be growing. Government Health Minister Alistair Burt, who has particular responsibility for mental health, has announced the launch of the ‘largest ever’ campaign to reduce the stigma around mental health in children.
The campaign will also see the launch of the Youth Mental Health Hub website to help children find accurate information about mental health conditions.
It is being heralded as the “biggest transformation to young people’s mental health and one of the greatest investments the sector has seen”.
And meanwhile, the first survey of young people’s mental health since 2004 has been commissioned, which will involve nearly 10,000 people aged from two to 19 and their families to assess the prevalence of mental health issues. Again new information is well overdue – current estimates are that at least 1 in 10 children aged 5-16 has a diagnosable mental health condition at any one time. That’s about three in every classroom. Eating disorders and self-injurious behaviour is on the up, and tragically, suicide is now the biggest killer of young men in Britain.
With services struggling to cope, it’s about time there was new research and more action. Reducing the stigma around mental health will be a major step forward – so it’s all better late than never. I’ve long been aware of this issue and have tried to base everything PET-Xi does around ensuring a child’s well being.
Young people today are under incredible pressure. Their worries include work and school, friends, the opposite sex, their future – and all at a time of hormonal change and with their teenage brain at a critical stage of development, especially the frontal lobe, which is responsible for the ‘braking system’ which helps people to step back and put things into perspective. So it’s no wonder young adults are vulnerable to social pressures and expectations. They are also famously prone to internalise their problems and less likely to reach out for help.
My work in education has shown me that schools and teachers do a massive amount of amazing work to help their students. But there is no doubt that the current focus on exam success is a strain on everyone.
Important as exams are, we have to get the message across that they are not the be all and end all. It’s better to produce happy, well-balanced individuals who are ‘life-ready’ before they are ‘exam-ready’. Don’t get me wrong – I understand the value of good qualifications and have worked for years to help children achieve their full potential. Usually help with exams will be a major factor in reducing stress by making the child feel more confident and in control.
But I also know that healthy, happy children and young people are less likely to engage in ‘risky’ behaviours and more likely to achieve well in school and go on to reach their full potential.
So we have to start with emotional well-being. As educators let’s do our bit – bring issues surrounding mental health to the fore and also provide parents with information so that they are better-equipped to speak to their children. Thankfully it’s no longer ‘ok’ to discriminate on grounds of gender or race; it shouldn’t be ok to stigmatise mental health either. By starting with our children and young people we can make a real impact on society as a whole. 50 per cent of all adults with mental health problems will first show themselves at age 14 – so it’s vital to intervene as early as possible.
PET-Xi is sponsoring the Bablake School 2016 Calendar, in support of the Cameron Grant Memorial.