Raising our level of ambition to support young people’s mental health

mental health support

The footballer (now football manager) Wayne Rooney is 36 years of age. He was playing in the Premiership when he was just 16. In a new documentary he has described his long-term struggle with mental health problems and how, not very long ago, it would have been unthinkable to ask for help. Meanwhile, newly published statistics indicate a surge in the the number of young people needing mental health support, and a children’s wellbeing expert has accused the government of lacking ambition in its approach to mental health. As the children’s commissioner says, we need to raise our level of ambition to support children’s mental health. Life-Based Learning offers an approach to looking after our children and young people that not only addresses acute and immediate problems but also puts in place a bold strategy to promote future wellbeing.

This year’s briefing on children’s mental health services from Dame Rachel de Souza, the children’s commissioner for England, refers to the Big Ask, a largescale survey of children and young people she conducted in 2021. It found that, though many young people were happy with their mental health, as many as one in five were not. Another key finding was that young people see physical and mental health as inextricably linked.

Dame de Souza says that, though there has been more of a focus on children’s mental health in recent years, there is a lot of catching up to do: “Children’s mental health has for decades been a low priority service within the NHS – with no improvement targets and low levels of funding.” Children’s access to specialist mental health services remain “a postcode lottery”, with huge differences in spending across England.

She goes on to say that what young people are asking for “is not rocket science: they want someone to talk to when they are worried or upset. They want easier access to support when problems are emerging so that they don’t start to build up.”

Children’s wellbeing expert Lord Layard painted a bleak picture for MPs on the House of Commons education select committee. He said that:

  • government plans for mental health support teams in a third of schools in England by 2022–23 lack ambition and need to be stepped up
  • only a third of children with diagnosable mental ill health get support from specialist NHS services

The young people in the most trouble are the people who are diagnosable — we are talking about 10% of our children. The shocking thing is that only about a third of these children get any form of specialist support. This is much worse than for adults.

It’s unbelievable that we have that situation, we have CAMHS (child and adolescent mental health services) that has such a high threshold – unless you’re stabbing your sister, or something like, that you’re assessed not to be bad enough. And until recently there have been no resources for anyone below the CAMHS threshold.”

Lord Layard, quoted by the BBC

The BBC reported recently that there has been a 77% rise in the number of children needing specialist treatment for severe mental health crisis. There were more than 400,000 referrals of under-18s for specialist care for issues such as suicidal thoughts and self-harm between April and October 2021.

Meanwhile, a survey of teaching and support staff in schools indicates that there has been an increase in emotional and mental health issues such as anxiety, low self-esteem and attention difficulties since the Covid pandemic.

We need a curriculum strategy that properly addresses the issue of children’s mental health. Life-Based Learning (LBL) aims to prepare young people for the challenges of modern life. Children need to learn from an early age about their emotions and how to manage them, much improving their chances of growing up happy, comfortable in themselves and emotionally resilient.

Our blogs regularly highlight the benefits to children’s mental health and wellbeing of regular physical exercise, outdoor and nature-based experiences and participation in activities that involve them in positive change.

Read More About Mental Health

Image at the head of this article by Myriams-Fotos from Pixabay.

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