Yesterday marked World Mental Health Day, drawing to our attention, if we did not already know, the serious issues surrounding mental health in this country.
Having worked in secondary schools for 22 years, I am particularly interested in the mental health of teenagers and I have witnessed an increasing degree of pressure on young lives, from all areas of society during my career in education. Pressures have come and are coming from many areas including the increased expectation on young people to achieve in their academic studies, with the onset of the new, more rigorous GCSEs and A’ Levels; the proliferation of social media and its constant availability and an ever increasing expectation on them of how to look, what to wear and where to be seen.
In turn, this pressure has inevitably begun to have an effect on the mental health of the young of our nation, and this up until now rarely spoken of area is beginning to spiral out of control to almost epidemic proportions. According to the Office of National Statistics, teenage suicides are at a 17 year high, with 186 teenagers taking their own lives in 2015 which is a 48% increase in the last 3 years.
So how do we tackle this and how do we take back control, as the adults, for our children, in this new and exciting world that we have created for them?
Schools work extremely hard to this end. Students are increasingly taught about ‘mindfulness’ and have a greater understanding of the physiology and functioning of their brains. They are taught about healthy bodies and healthy minds and how to achieve this. The students have access to counsellors, peer mentors, Chaplains, tutors, Heads of Year, Pastoral Heads – yet still the number of young people suffering rises.
My own experience has shown me the difficulties surrounding obtaining the medical support required by these troubled youngsters if they are not in imminent danger, and are considered to be medium to low risk. I have known young people wait months for a CAMHS – Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services – referral as the teenage mental health service in the area was already stretched and at breaking point. Whilst in other areas of the South, children as young as eight are being referred to CAMHS at the drop of a hat, for problems which should not even be classed as mental health. This smacks of inconsistency at best and chaos at worst.
It appears that the support network set up for parents and schools of students who require this help is is disarray and whilst I applaud the raising of awareness of mental health, I want to see affirmative action being taken to help all those with such difficulties.
What can we do as parents to support our vulnerable young adults in their quest to navigate the already turbulent seas of teenage years. Are mobile devices really the evil at the epicentre of this maelstrom of mental health or does the media have a more positive role to play here too?
Today, Sir Anthony Seldon, Vice-Chancellor of the University of Buckingham and former Head of Wellington College, has called for schools to be measured as successful, not only by their examination results but also by their mental health results, a so called ‘wellbeing league table for schools’ … a great idea and this would be a brave step forward, and one which I would love to see implemented.