25th Apr, 18
The Importance of Raising Awareness of Mental Health
I made the decision to write this blog because I want to raise awareness of mental health as much as possible. I have lots of personal and professional experience of what living with a mental health problem is like, so I wanted to share my knowledge and experience with you.
I am currently employed as a mental health specialist within numerous schools, a children’s charity and I work privately as a cognitive-behavioural therapist (CBT) with both children and adults. I therefore work daily individuals who experience difficulties with their mental health. I am passionate about improving mental health provision and the resources available for children and young people, for example through involvement with the petition and the development of my Mental Health Model for Schools (which are discussed in more detail later in this blog).
Normalising Mental Health
We all have mental health and any one of us can go through times of difficulty. It doesn’t matter about your age, where you are from, your upbringing or how much money you earn etc. etc. All these factors are irrelevant because we can all experience challenging times and struggle with our mental health. I aim to educate people about mental health through offering training to professionals: having delivered mental health awareness sessions to school staff from various schools, the police and many practitioners employed within Action for Children (AfC).
Most of the young people I work with believe they are the only ones who have struggled with their mental health and felt the way they have: they are often shocked to realise that many other children and young people also suffer. We therefore need to normalise mental health and raise awareness that many individuals are struggling silently. Just because a person may appear to be okay, it does not necessarily mean they are. Young people need to feel comfortable talking about their mental health to enable them to reach out for help when they are struggling.
Statistics argue how 1 in 10 children and young people suffer from a diagnosable mental health problem- that’s equivalent to 3 in every classroom. However, this data is taken from a prevalence study completed in 2004 and which is therefore out of date. From experience I believe this figure to be much higher.
Research carried out by the UCL Institute of Education and the University of Liverpool in 2017 found that 1 in 4 young girls exhibited symptoms consistent with depression. Similarly, a very recent survey carried out by Young Minds demonstrated how more than a third (36%) of young people in Britain have self-harmed at some point in their lives: with self-harmed being defined as ‘when someone intentionally damages or injures their body’. It is well known that self-harm is a way of coping with emotional distress therefore this also suggests that mental health problems are on the rise. A more accurate prevalence study on the number of children and young people experiencing difficulties is due to be published any time soon.
Early Intervention and Prevention
In response to the survey carried out by Young Minds, some useful resources and tools have been developed to help young people who self-harm, their parents and carers, as well as practitioners who work with young people. These resources and many more can be found on the Young Minds website.
Early intervention and prevention is vital. Most adults I support would have really benefitted from receiving mental health support much sooner than they did, which potentially could have prevented many of their difficulties from escalating and becoming more complex. I believe children and young people should grow up learning about mental health just like they do physical health, this will help to normalise mental health and encourage young people to talk to someone when they are struggling.
Last year I assisted the Shaw Mind Foundation in promoting a petition to make the discussion of mental health compulsory to the school curriculum. This received over 100,000 signatures and has subsequently being discussed in parliament. Young people should learn about mental health at school just like they do physical health.
A Mental Health Model for Schools
Having worked as a school counsellor for many years, I developed in practice a Mental Health Model for Schools. This model aims to guide schools on how to support their pupils mental health: arguing for a need for a whole-school approach to mental health, as well as offering targeted interventions to those pupils in need. Further information on this model is provided in the ‘my work in schools’ section on this website so if you would like to learn more about this model then please have a read: My Work in Schools.
Training and Resources
One of the areas discussed within the model is the importance of staff training and raising awareness of mental health in schools. School staff should be provided with information and training on how to identify mental health difficulties in young people and know where to sign-post them for further support. From my own experience in schools, most staff try to support pupils but often lack the confidence to have difficult conversations with young people about their mental health, often believing they will say the wrong thing or make things worse.
Although I focus on school staff, I consider it important for all individuals working with children and young people to receive training around mental health. I just think it is a promising idea to begin with school staff given the amount of time children and young people spend in school.
In my spare time I develop information and resources for professionals, as well as for children, young people, their parents and carers. From my own experience I have found that many parents and carers struggle in knowing how best to support their child, therefore the more support, advice and guidance they can receive the better.
This is the same for young people as the more support they can receive early on then the more likely they are to overcome their difficulties. However, the recent report from Young Minds found that around half of young people who do actually reach out for help are turned away. This is shocking given how we know that tackling problems early and getting the right help can prevent problems from escalating. Young Minds reported that “despite great progress being made by campaigns such as Heads Together to get people talking about mental health more, there are still unacceptable barriers to young people receiving the help they need”.
Considering the above findings, one of the resources I have developed includes a Mental Health Support Directory which lists mental health websites, apps and telephone numbers available to support children and young people. I thought this was a valuable resource to develop, as it allows practitioners to sign-post young people to online services or helplines suitable for the difficulties they are experiencing. Children and young people need clear and accessible information to enable them to be able to at least try to help themselves. This will help to build resilience in young people as they will learn ways to cope during challenging times.
A link to the Mental Health Support Directory is provided below:
Mental Health Challenges
I am hoping to include guest blogs written by people I have worked with. I also run a CBT self-help group for young people in one of the schools I am employed at, and when I asked them if they were interested in contributing to the blog they most definitely were! I think it will be good for readers to be able to view blogs from an eclectic audience to gain a good understanding about the complexity of mental health. Struggling with a mental health difficultly can impact on so many areas of a person’s life and the more people talk about it, they more other people will have a chance of understanding.
I am blessed with two wonderful children who really are amazing. I have struggled with my mental health both as an adolescence and young adult. I know how I personally would have really benefitted from speaking to someone at school, although I was reluctant to admit I had a problem, never mind seek help. I believe had staff received more training in mental health then they could potentially have identified that I was struggling and referred me for some support. Or if pupils had been educated around mental health then I may have been more likely to ask for help myself.
We did not have a school counsellor during my time at school, which I believe to be a must for all secondary schools, colleges and universities. Although it is statutory for all secondary schools to have access to school counselling in Wales and Scotland, this is not the case in England and there are still many schools which do not offer mental health support to their pupils.
There are many issues surrounding the mental health provision available for children and young people: including challenges faced by Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services, long waiting times, the lack of availability of evidence-based treatments and young people seeing practitioners inconsistently. In 2016 Jeremy Hunt went as far as to describe “CAMHS as the single biggest area of weakness in NHS provision”. Although it is up to the government and the NHS to improve the issues within CAMHS, there are still things we can all do much sooner to help to preclude the development of mental health problems in the first place (for example raising awareness, identifying mental health problems early on and sign-posting young people to relevant support).
I hope you have enjoyed reading my first blog and hopefully future blogs will be of interest to you. Please feel free to contact me with any queries and I will reply to you as soon as I can. As and when I develop more resources I will share them with readers: I believe the more we can share good resources and practice then the more children and young people we will be able to reach.BACK TO BLOG