Last week, the Duchess of Cambridge launched the first children’s mental health week on behalf of Place2Be, a children’s mental health charity. The message was clear, mental health challenges are not a sign of weakness but a normative part of development.
These challenges are frequently reactions to stress and adversity, whether a traumatic life event, examination anxiety, bereavement, bullying, domestic violence, neglect or abuse. Children should have prompt access to support interventions. A recent survey by Young Minds found that 60% of parents did not feel adequately supported in managing their child’s needs and 25% waited more than a year to access services.
This Saturday, 28 February, the London Festival of Education will put a spotlight on these issues, among others, with sessions on well-being for children and teachers, developing positive school contexts, and a critique of the use of drugs to manage children and young peoples’ behaviour. We will also look at the challenges of transition to adulthood and the opportunities provided in the new SEND legislation to promote children and young people’s well-being. Camila Batmanghelidjh will discuss “The Trauma Rollercoaster”.
It is part of LFE’s exciting mix of debate, hands-on activities, performances and professional development, taking in themes such as creativity, diversity and social mobility and topics such as, “What has Assessment Ever done for Us?’, “Educating the Audience” through TV programmes such as Educating Essex and the value of outdoor learning.
LFE’s well-being strand comes at a timely moment. In recent years there has been much debate about the aims and outcomes of education. Many educationalists have expressed concern that the focus on academic attainments and raising standards has dominated the agenda at the expense of the wider social and emotional aspects of learning. As the IOE’s Professor John White wrote: “schools were caught up in a regime of getting on, doing even better, getting more and more efficient – but within a system that had lost sight of what it was about…schools should be equipping people to lead a fulfilling life”.
In 2007 UNICEF’s international study of children and young people’s well-being ranked the UK last when compared to 21 developed countries for overall child well-being. This served to highlight the urgent need to improve the life experiences of our children. It helped to put social, emotional and psychological aspects of learning firmly back on the agenda. Many schools have responded creatively and sensitively to the needs of their pupils, recognising that if their psycho-social needs are unmet then the child is not well placed to learn.
Statistical evidence suggests that mental health needs are more widespread than might be expected:
- 1 in 10 children aged 5-16 have a diagnosable mental health condition; that equates to three children in every classroom;
- Nearly 80,000 children and young people suffer from severe depression;
- In the last ten years the number of children self harming and requiring a hospital admission has increased by 68%.
Furthermore vulnerable children and young people are at an increased risk:
- Approximately half of children with SEN have accompanying mental health needs;
- 72% of looked after children have emotional and behavioural needs;
- 95% of imprisoned young offenders have a mental health need;
- Depression and anxiety rates in the teenage population have increased by 75% in the past 25 years;
- Half of all adult mental health problems have their origins in childhood, but access to early support can prevent a life-time of suffering.
Promoting Children’s Well-being and Mental Health
But what is well-being itself? The Department for Environment Food & Rural Affairs’s definition describes a complex pattern of interactions between an individual and their contexts:
A positive physical, social and mental state; it is not just the absence of pain, discomfort and incapacity. It requires that basic needs be met, that individuals have a sense of purpose, that they feel able to achieve important personal goals and participate in society. It is enhanced by conditions that include supportive personal relationships, strong and inclusive communities, good health, financial and personal security, rewarding employment, and a healthy and attractive environment.
Organisations like Place2be, Kids Company and the National Pyramid Trust are working closely with schools to develop resources to promote pupil resilience, well-being and positive mental health. Schools are ideally placed within communities to be sensitive and responsive to the needs of their pupils and communities and help build resilience.