Today, Equality 4 Mental Health has launched a petition to improve mental health and wellbeing services for people in the UK.
This petition has been signed by many public figures calling for mental health services to be given the same funding as physical health. See some of their comments here. The fact that so many people from diverse backgrounds and perspectives have signed this in a short period of time demonstrates how important this issue is for many people – famous or otherwise.
In response, the government has said that it has pledged £1.25 billion to Children’s Mental Health Services over a five year period. Whilst this is a step in the right direction, it isn’t enough. The underfunding of CAMHS and other local authority services for young people has had a significant impact on far too many lives. Action needs to be taken now – some of which doesn’t need to cost a fortune, much of which requires a change of thought and approach.
The petition raises ten points of major concern about mental health services currently:
- Access to services (it’s estimated that 75% of children and young people with mental health issues can’t or don’t access services).
- Changes to waiting time protocols for mental health services.
- Financial incentives within the NHS discriminate against mental health – i.e. in our target driven world, mental health work isn’t as quantifiable as physical health – and is therefore deemed less important by managers struggling to meet targets.
- Lack of residential support available nationally.
- Lack of support for those who are unemployed due to their mental health.
- Too many people end up in police cells rather than hospitals when suffering a mental health crisis.
- Too many are locked up in prison as a consequence of their mental health issues.
- Those with mental health conditions live on average 20 years less than the general population.
- There’s a troubling and disproportionate number of certain minority ethnic groups failing to access mental health services – implication of prejudice.
- Need for greater research.
We agree with all of these statements. We have been calling for immediate action on children and young peoples’ mental health and wellbeing for far too long without seeing any significant action. The statements above are exceptionally important for those already suffering from mental health problems – but what about taking prevention seriously? What about the rights of the child?
Here’s a post that we wrote a year ago – in response to the cross-party Children and Adolescent’s Mental Health and CAMHS report (http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm201415/cmselect/cmhealth/342/342.pdf)
Our final comment in this post is sadly still relevant:
“An approach to learning and life which places the wellbeing of our young people at the heart of policy is long overdue.”
Another of our posts called for immediate action, and is one of our most frequently read blog posts:
We reiterate the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child:
- Article 3 (Best interests of the child): The best interests of children must be the primary concern in making decisions that may affect them
- Article 4 (Protection of Rights): Governments have a responsibility to take all available measures to make sure children’s rights are respected, protected and fulfilled.
- Article 12 (Respect for the views of the child): When adults are making decisions that affect children, children have the right to say what they think should happen and have their opinions taken into account.
- Article 24 (Health and health services): Children have the right to good quality health care – and information to help them stay healthy.
- Article 29 (Goals of education): Children’s education should develop each child’s personality, talents and abilities to the fullest.
Are current services for children and adolescents abiding by this convention? We don’t think so.
From the cross-party report and other similar studies there have been two clear recommendations:
- A need for training in wellbeing and mental health for all who are working with young people
- A need to talk to young people and identify the extent, cause and impact of mental health issues
The Equality4MentalHealth petition makes several references to the importance of “talking therapies”. We agree that this is vital. Talking is the key. We’d take this a step further and say that we need “talking prevention” too, and this is something that could be done relatively inexpensively – with some simple training and a re-emphasis on “talking” in education generally.
To this end, we would broaden the scope for this petition to consider the cause, effects and possible preventative measures on mental health and wellbeing that Nicky Morgan and her education team should consider implementing – with immediate effect.
Here’s our additional and complementary ten points on mental health for children and young people.
- Make PSHE education statutory – not tokenistic lessons but a fully integrated part of school, where children and young people have opportunities to learn and talk about the issues that matter to them and to society.
- Strengthen the “relationships” component of Sex and Relationships Education (and also make this statutory) with the emphasis on relationships.
- Emphasise Socratic learning – frequently forgotten because it isn’t as easy to “evidence” as written work. This would ensure that young people are used to talking, making it easier for them to talk about their problems as well as their successes and their learning.
- Introduce mindfulness meditation in all schools, providing a time for all children to switch off, clear their minds and refocus – something that we’d recommend for everyone.
- Ensure that there’s a member of the leadership team who has a direct responsibility for the personal development and wellbeing of all pupils. (See our previous post on this matter – https://3diassociates.wordpress.com/2015/09/17/important-ofsted-changes-personal-development-behaviour-and-welfare/ )
- Teach the Convention on the Rights of the Child to all children, so that they are clear about their rights and understand the value and importance of respecting other peoples’ rights.
- Ensure that the mental health and wellbeing of children and young people is a core component of initial teacher training. Also ensure that all teachers and teaching assistants have regular training on personal development and wellbeing as part of their continuing professional development.
- Review the effect of constant testing on the wellbeing and mental state of our children and young people. NB – Article 3 of the UN Convention. Have politicians and law-makers really considered the devastating impact on many children of the ludicrous amount of testing that occurs in this country – let alone the message that it conveys that academic attainment is valued above their personal, social, emotional and mental wellbeing?
- Listen to young people. We can’t emphasise this enough. When making decisions about an offer of support and learning for young people, then listen to what they want, what they need and how they can be involved in the implementation. This is relevant to all areas of the curriculum and not just the personal development lessons.
- Have effective mechanisms for early identification of problems, and act on them.
This is by no means an exhaustive list but it’s a starting point for effective prevention – even more effective if “next steps” provision is cohesive and adequately funded.
Prevention could save millions of pounds (and hundreds of lives) and would reduce the congestion and inadequate provision that children and young people are currently faced with. Far too many teachers, parents and children don’t even consider CAMHS as an option because they know the waiting list is too long or the problem won’t be addressed due to the high demand of other seemingly more significant problems that other children are facing.
We are beyond facing a crisis. We’ve had decades of being in a crisis. There is an obvious need to address the over-burdened state of social and mental health services in this country. Consider the consequences if we perpetuate the problem by not acting now. We need transformative action to improve the specialist services AND to change the education system as a whole.
It’s tragic that international research shows we have a population of children who are less happy and less satisfied with their lives and with their education than children in other industrialised countries. We have far too many children who are anxious, angry, stressed, depressed and coping with other complex mental health and wellbeing issues. These young people need and deserve far more and far better provision and support. For the sake of our entire society let’s fight for their needs and their rights.
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Links to the Children’s Worlds International Survey of Children’s Wellbeing:
On transforming education