There is no doubt whatsoever that mental health – feeling and staying mentally healthy – is a major issue for young people. While we hear shocking stories about children as young as four being diagnosed and treated for mental health disorders, the statistics collated by Young Minds paint a picture of significant distress. For example:
– 1 in 10 children have a diagnosable mental health disorder, half of all mental health problems manifest by the age of 14 (with 75% by the age of 24);
– almost 1 in 4 children and young people show some evidence of mental ill health (including anxiety and depression);
– suicide is the most common cause of death for boys aged between 5-19 years and the second most common cause for girls.
When looking at the research on child and adolescent mental health and wellbeing, we have to conclude that the level of distress felt by the young people in our society is far too high.
While there is plenty that can be done to reduce and remove the pressures facing young people to ensure that they develop the skills they need to navigate life’s natural undulations without having to deal with unnecessary additional stress, this takes commitment from all levels of society. At best, this is a work in progress, so knowing how to spot signs of distress in the young people in our care is essential.
Dr Nihara Krause, Consultant Clinical Psychologist and founder and CEO of stem4, a teenage mental health charity aimed at improving teenage mental health by stemming commonly occurring mental health issues at an early stage, explains that “potential risk factors to suicide include bereavement (especially a suicide or the sudden death of a friend), poor physical health, social isolation, academic pressures, bullying, difficulty adjusting to gender identify/sexuality, and suicide related internet use.”
Many of these factors cited by Dr Krause are relevant to school, which is a significant part of the lived experience of a child. So what do we need to be looking out for? Dr Krause suggests the following are strong warning lights for teachers to be aware of:
– “Withdrawal from a regular group of friends – sometimes this might be to be on their own and sometimes it might be to join a group of friends who have their own problems
– Negative changes in school performance. This might include not being engaged, not completing assignments/homework, neglecting what they have to do
– Mood swings, irritability, excessive emotionality or lack of emotion
– Increased risk behaviour
– Talking, writing, painting about suicide and death
– Making statements about death and dying”
The prevalence of mental health distress in children and young people is such that it’s not too farfetched to say that every teacher will be encountering, in this academic year, children who are suffering. Knowing what to do for the best can be challenging and overwhelming. Teachers know what their duty of care is, and they can be a lifeline for children and young people in crisis, but we are not always trained sufficiently to deal with such needs. Evidently it is essential for children to have access to the fully qualified support that they need and for teachers to access effective supervision when helping children in need. Nationally, the picture is mixed, but if you feel you need support in helping others with their mental health it’s important to talk to your union or the Education Support Partnership.
If you observe thoughts, behaviours or emotions in a student that concern you, Dr Krause is keen to emphasise the need to take action sooner rather than later. She makes these suggestions:
– Set up a one to one meeting where you can give the student time to open up.
– Don’t be afraid to ask the student if they have had suicidal feelings.
– Be prepared to take action – follow school protocol on reporting concerns about a child or young person.
– If a pupil is at immediate risk, do not leave them on their own.
– Get help quickly if you are unsure. Call 111 (NHS helpline for urgent medical concerns) or 999 in the case of emergencies.
– Follow school procedure on contacting parents and carers.
Your school should have a policy on supporting children and young people with depression or who self-harm, which includes steps to take in case of concerns about the safety of a student to suicide. stem4 has a range of draft policies on these topics.
Don’t ever feel that your concerns are misplaced. Raising them through the right channels just might save a life.
Find out more...
– stem4 is holding a teacher conference titled ‘A whole school approach to the mental health problems of children and young people’ on the 28th June 2018 from 4.30 – 9pm at the Ark Academy, Putney. For information please contact firstname.lastname@example.org, stem4.org.uk
– Young Minds
– Government proposals on children and young people’s mental health
About the author
After graduating with a degree in Politics and International Relations from the University of Reading, Elizabeth Holmes completed her PGCE at the Institute of Education, University of London. She then taught humanities and social sciences in schools in London, Oxfordshire and West Sussex, where she ran the history department in a challenging comprehensive. Elizabeth specialises in education but also writes on many other issues and themes. As well as her regular blogs for eTeach and FEjobs, her books have been published by a variety of publishers and translated around the world.