It’s slightly overwhelming to think that about 10% of children or adolescents have some sort of mental health issue. And mental health isn’t just a personal problem; it affects families, communities and society in general. In school terms, that’s roughly three pupils in every classroom, and I’m sure many teachers know only too well how the disruptive behaviour of one child can result in a large loss of learning time for everyone, not just the child with the problem.
There’s not just the actual mental health problem to think about either. In the long-term, poorer mental health can lead to physical illnesses like heart disease and diabetes. Estimates of the yearly additional health, social care and educational costs associated with children with psychiatric disorders in the UK are around 1.47 billion. This shows that it’s crucial to provide young people with early support not only for their development and health, but also for society as a whole.
However, sadly most children and young people aren’t getting the care they need. Many aren’t able to access mental health services because the eligibility criteria is too high – they are only able to see the most severe of cases. Sometimes this means even young people who have tried to commit suicide are turned down. If children don’t get the help they need their problems can get worse, whereas if treated in time most young people will benefit significantly.
As such it is no surprise that schools are becoming actively involved in supporting the mental health needs of their children. This is great news, but teachers need the tools and training to be able to identify children who are in need, especially when it comes to children with anxiety and depression who may be missed due to the nature of their symptoms (feeling on edge, stomach aches etc.). Government policy holds schools responsible for promoting mental health and pursuing preventative approaches. We need to continue to push to make sure teachers and schools are supported in this aim so that every child can get the help that they deserve.