Post 6 Educating the future

(Image copyright Mental Health Foundation)

I worry. A lot. I guess we all do, maybe it’s more pronounced with depression and anxiety. I suspect some of my worry skill is inherited from my mother. If worrying was an Olympic sport she would be a gold medallist multiple times over.

I worry the effect my mental health issues have on my children. They have witnessed me in very emotional states and reacting to situations in ways which they may not have understood.

For a period they struggled to understand why was I off work. They thought it was due to long standing tendon damage in my arms, which can make typing painful. Even when I explained as best as I could, which was not very clearly, they still thought it was mainly my arms, often accompanied by the gesture known as “jazz hands”.

Some recent articles and reports probably indicate we should all worry about children’s understanding of mental health.

In the US it’s been reported that the percentage of children and teenagers admitted to hospital with suicidal thoughts or actions has doubled over the period 2008-15 . The research was presented at the 2017 Paediatric Academic Societies Meeting, with the accompanying statistics, based on 32 children’s hospitals across the US, ages 5 to 17:

  • of the approximate 188,000 children admitted , around 50% were aged 15-17
  • the other half was split 37% aged 12-14 and 13% below the age of 11

In the UK a Health Select Committee published a report stating that half of all mental health illness starts before the age of 15. It highlights that it’s “a false economy to cut services for children and young people that could help to improve well-being, build resilience and provide early intervention.” As highlighted in my first blog early intervention appears to be one of the differentials in the treatment of mental health compared to other life threatening illnesses such as cancer.

The Health Select Committee also highlighted that the government “should strengthen mental health training and continuing professional development for teachers to ensure they are properly equipped to recognise the early signs of mental illness in their pupils and have the confidence to be able to signpost or refer to the right support.”. Does a teacher know how to adequately respond if a pupil has an eating disorder ? Or the pupil who acts ”oddly” has OCD? The “unruly” pupil with autism? The list of conditions is sadly long and I have every sympathy with the teaching profession. It’s hard.

The UK charity The Shaw Mind Foundation raised a petition calling for the compulsory teaching of mental health in primary and secondary schools, which reached enough signatures to ensure parliamentary debate, post the general election in June. As part of their Headucation campaign, they highlight:

  • around 850, 000 pupils (aged 5-16) have a mental health issue (that equates to 3 pupils per class.)
  • 1 in 5 children will suffer a mental health issue before the age of 11
  • 65% of 14-18 year olds said they would not be able to identify if they were experiencing a mental health problem as they don’t know enough about them.

In the UK the current lesson in secondary school within which mental health is covered is called Personal, Social, Health and Economic (PSHE). The actual content varies from school to school. Critically and hence the petition, PSHE is not compulsory, so many schools do not even deliver it.

Both the US research and the UK Select Committee report also touch upon the possible reasons for the growing numbers. These include the pressure to pass assessments and exams, along with the influence of social media.

My posts are not intended to be political, my personal political opinion is my own. Simply, my heartfelt wish to the elected government in June is that they will act upon the growing awareness of mental health and ensure that the education and health services have the right funding and support to match that awareness.

It would be a crying shame if someone, child or adult, now felt that it was ok to ask for help and failed to get the right timely support.

As part of this week’s Mental Health Awareness campaign in the UK, the Mental Helath Foundation (MHF) published a great, short animation I would encourage you to view, called From Surviving to Thriving

The MHF state that by 2030 depression is set to be the leading cause of illness across the world. Let’s give our children the right skills and support to help them thrive

Have a great weekend.

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