For over a decade now mental health in young people has taken a steady decline and with the events of the last 18months, that steady decline has seen a sharp fall.
We know that –
- 75% of all MH disorders start before the age of 24, and 50% before 18?
- The most common form of death in children between 10-19 years old is suicide?
- A recent research piece from Mind found that 78% off young people said that school had made their mental health worse.
I hear often ‘children are resilient’ ‘they will bounce back. If you take a look at the facts and information it is clear to see that they are not resilient.
Why is this happening?
Aristotle said “Educating the mind without educating the heart is no education at all”
This goes some way to explain. Within schools and life young people have a lot of stress and things to juggle and with social media and the pressures there it is getting worse all of the time. But we don’t educate them on ways to understand and manage this stress and emotions we only keep piling it on with exams, high expectations and disregard for any mistakes that are made along the way.
So the real question is, why are we surprised that things are such a mess!?
And how are we trying to ‘fix this, supplying more counsellors, more medication, more restraints and rules, more pressure! This hasn’t worked for the last decade so why would it begin to work now? Albert Einstein said ‘Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results, we need to move forward from our insanity!
These young people are at breaking point and have been for some time, we need to take action for this generation and the ones to follow. For our own children, their children and the children in our communities and county.
The Struggles of Change
There are 2 common responses I come up against when working on the space of mental health and children…. ‘the blame game’ and the ‘wrap them in cotton wool’ technique. Here is a quick look at these.
‘Wrap them in cotton wool’ technique
Life is going to happen and it is already happening, we cannot change that! We cannot wrap them in cotton wool – as much as we would love to!
I hear this often and it is so well-meant but it shows a lack of understanding of the challenge we have, and also how to address such a challenge. I not only came across this in other schools but also where my daughter is. I spoke to them about mental health and well-being, this is what I do so for me it is really important the school has high value to this, they do, this is the reason we chose that school. BUT they are still coming at the issue with the ‘wrap them in cotton wool’ technique. When I spoke with them about mental health and well-being at the school, explaining I didn’t see that this was the priority they had represented to me they responded by telling me about the treehouse classroom, forest school, family feel at the school and teachers that are available and warm to speak with.
They are right, the school has all of these elements. It is a wonderful school with a great supportive feel. And the outdoor space and activities do also support good mental health and well-being. This is a great step in the right direction but defiantly not the full solution.
But, what about when ‘life’ happens? What about when they are no longer in the school environment? What about when they no longer have supportive teachers to lean on? Are they being taught what to do then? Do they properly understand emotions and what to do should they start to unravel? The key is to equip them with education, tools and support to navigate challenges, to understand their emotions and understand how to manage them. This will empower them now and throughout the ups and downs of life.
The Blame Game
So often I hear ‘what about the parents’ ‘what about the teachers’, ‘is their spouse being supportive’.
Yes, there is some safeguarding around this area, that is different. What I am talking about here is schools or authorities saying ‘there’s no point as home life is not good’ ‘what can we really do– this is a cop-out! Schools teach children a whole range of subjects that they don’t learn at home, this isn’t any different. And parents, also teach children different skills at home that they do not learn in schools. We all have an opportunity and responsibility with this.
This is the ‘blame game’. We need to stop! Ask yourself does this help the children? No! It just distracts from the actual problem and is just a way of us keeping our heads buried firmly in the sand.
What can be done?
Well, lots! There is a lot going on at the moment and I see people rushing and throwing things at the problem without thinking it through. Let’s look at things in a way that is going to work, creating small easy steps and growing through them. If things are forced or too much at once everyone will be overwhelmed, creating more stress and losing sight of objectives.
At the moment there is a lot of triage, waiting until there is a big problem then seeking therapist help. This has resulted in CAMHS having an 8month waiting list and many young people not getting the help they need. This is not enough and it doesn’t work, we have done this for years and things have only got worse. This is proof that the current system is not working…… at all!
Albert Einstien said ‘the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result’, we need to step out of our insanity and start doing things differently.
What we need to do is look at prevention, mild to moderate and triage. Why? Well, if we only provide triage support by the time a young person gets there they are already in quite a pickle, this will take months or years to unpick. The idea is that a strategic plan is created within schools to ensure ALL 3 areas are well covered. So we need to look at –
Understanding emotions properly is key for young people. The ups, downs and confusion of hormones and life is a lot to deal with and having a good base knowledge of emotions, what they mean and the difference between them being part of the human experience and pathological will help young people to be able to properly understand themselves and asses a ‘normal’ emotion (good or bad) with one that needs some adjustment.
Prevention and Mild Challenges
This area is hugely overlooked at the moment but will play a key role in changing the decade long decline in the mental health of children and young people. Preventative techniques and ones to use for mild ‘every day’ challenges will stop things spiralling out of control in a lot of cases. If a problem occurs, is not addressed and a solution is not found feelings of helplessness, insecurity and a lack of control will contribute to things progressing to get more ingrained and worsen any symptoms already felt. By teaching children and young people tools to navigate life challenges (which are inevitable) they will feel empowered to work through these times and a sense of strength and control once they develop through the challenge and back to more settled space. Life will happen to us all, good and bad, it is how we approach these challenges that will dictate the outcome. We need to start teaching children skills for this.
Other Therapy Options
Counselling, although a brilliant therapy, only actually works for around 47% of people. This means that by only offering counselling as an option 53% will feel unengaged with this and end up feeling like there is no way of them getting help. There are many research-based therapies available out there and these should be at least talked about in schools, with an education around what they are, how they work and what the therapy process will look like with different options. This way when students look to access help they have knowledge of what is available and feel comfortable with the process as they have knowledge of the subjects.
This might seem a lot but actually over time, with the right support and strategy, this is easily done. We just need to start! If we don’t stop burying our heads in the sand and take action now we will continue to fail these children and young people. I, for one, will not stand back and allow that to happen!
If you would like to know how you can support your students or help us to support schools in need get in touch – firstname.lastname@example.org