Blog post

Addressing the time bomb of children’s mental health

Children and young people are becoming increasingly anxious, experiencing low mood and self-esteem. Melanie Smith looks at what can be done to support young people’s mental health.

By Melanie Smith - 25 April 2019

The mental health and wellbeing of our children and young people is a high priority, particularly in the current education climate where the emphasis on exam results and attainment has resulted in a mental health ticking time bomb.

Record levels of young people are now struggling with their mental health. One in 10 children has a diagnosable mental health condition, according to Young Minds, while NHS figures from 2017 show that one in eight 5-19-year-olds has at least one mental health disorder.

Academic pressure, social media, bullying, poverty and the lack of availability of professional mental health support have all been identified as contributing to this epidemic of poor mental health in our young people.

Ofsted states that good mental health is the foundation for our children and young people to achieve their aspirations, and has added personal development, behaviour, welfare and mental health to its common inspection framework. More specifically, the framework references the essential components of emotional wellbeing such as relationships, self-discipline, self-confidence, self-efficacy, communication skills, positive mindset and attitude.

Ofsted is considering a mental health and wellbeing assessment as part of their inspection but, despite this, the main focus for schools is still results and league tables. The practitioners of the future can help to make the shift from a culture of exam results and grades to one of supportive, nurturing environments for children and young people. 

The need for support from an early age

Young people are not currently getting the support they need. Key figures in their lives – their family, teachers, carers or youth workers – are often aware that they are struggling but may not know the best way to help them.

Early intervention must begin both at home and in school. Intervention needs to be addressed across the 0-19 age range and embedded within primary and secondary schools, so the support and help is there when a child or young person begins to experience the symptoms of a mental health problem.

In Derbyshire, headteachers have identified that the emotional health of children and young people is a major concern and, as a result, new mental health leaders will be appointed in every school.

Providing mental health champions will have a positive impact on children and young people, creating the right environments and equipping them with effective strategies to support their mental health. In doing so, they can speed up a young person’s recovery and stop a mental health issue from getting worse.

We must also rethink how the education system can begin to foster caring, supportive structures and spaces to enable all children and young people to achieve their own unique potential.

Equipping the practitioners of the future

Practitioners of the future need to be equipped to support the mental health of children and young people. At the University of Derby, our Child and Youth Studies students engaged in placements two days a week throughout their three-year degree programme, supporting children and young people aged 0-19 in a wide range of educational environments.  

Students on the programme recently took part in Mental Health First Aid (MHFA) Lite training to prepare them for the challenges they may encounter in their placements and future employment in the education sector.

MHFA is a programme designed to help adults working with children and young people, addressing the limitations of first aid courses that treat physical conditions rather than mental health and wellbeing challenges. The training equips students with the skills and confidence to spot the signs of mental health issues in a young person, offer first aid and guide them towards the support they need.

It is essential that our workforce is equipped through accredited training to challenge and be more aware of the increasing pressures facing children and young people with mental health conditions. As a result, our Child and Youth Studies students were encouraged to challenge the stigma associated with mental health conditions and support and educate the workforce to deal with the ever-increasing rise in mental health conditions.

This will enable children and young people to be confident and empowered in the services and support available to them, whatever the challenges may be in our educational settings.

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About the author

Melanie Smith
Lecturer in Child and Youth Studies

I have been teaching for over 20 years in a wide range of educational settings. I trained as a primary teacher and worked in mainstream schools after graduating in 1996. I have spent a long time with CYP in alternative provision. More recently my career progressed in FE and I have been teaching at the University of Derby for the past three years on the Child and Youth Studies programme.