A recent survey from YouGov found that 11% of children, “said they feel they have no-one to talk to, or would not talk to anyone in school, if they felt worried or sad.” When this statistic is applied to the whole of the UK, according to the Mental Health Foundation’s estimate, this would be equivalent to nearly half a million children. Why do so many children feel like they have no one to talk to and what can be done about it?
How are schools responsible?
Partly, this is because of a lack of support in some schools. As mentioned in the article, and from my own experience, I know that lots of schools take great measures to support the mental health and well-being of their pupils, but sadly some are simply not doing enough. In fact, even in some schools where they have good things in place,that still isn’t enough to reach those key individuals with more serious trauma. Some schools already teach children about mental health and provide nurturing environments where children feel safe and able to share their feelings. Other schools seem to shy away from difficult subjects such as unhealthy relationships, or just don’t place enough importance on supporting mental health for fear of not reaching academic data goals. This can make staff seem unapproachable to a child needing support.
In response to this, the school standards minister (Nick Gibb) explains how the governments green paper proposal will help provide additional resources to support schools in giving early mental health interventions. Additionally, he said, “We have also committed to ensuring all children and young people learn about mental well-being through the introduction of compulsory Relationships, Sex and Health Education in all schools. For the first time every child will be taught about good mental and physical health, the important links between the two, how to be safe on and offline, and the importance of healthy relationships.”
Who else is responsible?
Schools are just one piece of the puzzle. Even when schools are being supportive and helping pupils seek additional support such as health referrals, not all of those pupils are getting the external support they need and deserve. According to the Education Policy Institute, not only has the number of referrals ‘risen by more than a quarter in the last five years,’ but due to many cuts in health services, including mental health services, “at least 55,800 children were denied access to child and adolescent mental health services (CAMHS) in England despite being referred last year.”
Not only do some children feel no one can help them in school, but they aren’t receiving support form health services either. Not to mention the role the media plays in anxiety and self esteem issues. Schools will be teaching compulsory health education, which will include lessons in how to build mental resilience, how to recognise when their friends may be struggling with mental health issues and more. This has been born out of teacher, pupil and parent views on ‘what they thought should be taught in compulsory relationship and sex education classes.’
Too much pressure on schools?
I can’t help but feel that, although this change to the curriculum is a positive move in the right direction, it simply isn’t enough. How much time will teachers realistically have to teach these lessons? What quality will they be? Do teachers have sufficient training to be able to deliver this information with pupils, and answer their queries? I’m also concerned that schools are being used as a scapegoat for mental health issues. Schools of course have a role to play and some need to make more of an effort than others to improve their mental health support, but the issue goes beyond the responsibly of schools. It’s about parental support, the health service, the media, the government and communities. This includes better opportunities for children and young people to access mental health support, better opportunities to go in to higher education, better job prospects and wages, and so much more. You simply can’t put together a jigsaw with pieces missing.
Nearly 500,000 children have no-one to talk to when feeling sad, survey finds, Eleanor Busby, 10/10/2018
Mental health education to be made compulsory in English schools, Eleanor Busby, 19/07/2018
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