Suicide is the most common cause of death for boys aged between 5 and 19, being the cause of 14 per cent of deaths in this age group, and the second most common for girls of that age (9 per cent), after land traffic accidents.
CentreForum Commission on Children and Young People's Mental Health: "'State of the Nation'" (April 2016)
These are the figures that stopped me in my tracks as I listened to 5 live Daily on Radio 5 Live on Monday. I already knew the often-quoted (yet still horrifying) statistic that one in 10 young people (equivalent to three in every classroom) have a mental health problem, but these figures provided even more devastating clarity. The stories told by mothers of teenagers with severe mental health problems on 5 Live were harrowing and I haven't even been able to bring myself to watch BBC One's 'Panorama' (I'm broken inside: Sara's Story) as I know it will be very upsetting.
These are not just numbers. These are children. Dying. Committing Suicide.
It doesn't bear thinking about but we must think about it. We must think and we must act, because the problem is getting worse. The 'State of the Nation' report was produced to look at progress in improving children's mental health care in England since the publication of the 'Future in Mind' government strategy (which included a commitment to invest £1.25bn over 5 years) published in March 2015.
According to the 'State of the Nation' Report, 23% (nearly a quarter) of children referred to CAMHS (Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services) are being turned away. Waiting times can be as long as 6 months for a first appointment and 42 weeks for the start of treatment.
As the report states,
Mental health problems are linked to premature mortality and can also be life limiting. Young people with an emotional disorder are more likely to smoke, drink and use drugs than other children; more likely to have time off school and fall behind in their education; and are more likely to earn less money as adults or to experience unemployment. As well as the personal cost, the estimated long term cost to the economy of mental health problems is £105bn a year.
Some of the risk factors for mental health problems are common occurrences in young people's lives, such as long term physical illness, bereavement and parental separation or divorce. It is therefore essential to have provision for early support and intervention when such life events that are potential triggers occur, to prevent longer-term mental health issues from developing. Unfortunately, the provision for early intervention and support is simply not there, as the report shows.
The report mentions various Department for Education initiatives aimed at improving mental health support in schools, including the introduction last August of a Mental Health Champion for Schools and funding for training and character education. Last month, the DfE asked for views on how to improve young people's mental health through peer mentoring.
At the Character Symposium at Floreat School in January this year, Education Secretary Nicky Morgan stated:
Evidence clearly shows that character matters... developing excellent character traits in young people can help them to realise their true potential...For me character traits are those qualities that enhance us as people: persistence, the ability to work with others, to show humility in the joy of success and resilience in the face of failure. Character is about being self-aware, playing an active role within communities. It's about selflessness and self-discipline as well as playing a full role in society.
She also said that "with character comes the confidence and determination not to be beaten".
You can read her full speech here.
Yet despite these declarations and a heavy focus in the September 2015 Ofsted inspection framework on mental health, it was confirmed in February this year that PSHE (Personal, Social and Health Education) education would remain optional. The creation of the PSHE Association is not enough. Add to that the increasing pressure of taking tests at ever-earlier ages and is it any surprise that young people are crumbling under immense pressure?
The 'State of the Nation' report cites research indicating that
early intervention with social and emotional learning programmes for children has a return on investment of £84 for each £1 spent.
Even taking humanity and compassion out of the equation, given the vast economic cost already referred to earlier, that mental health problems bring, why isn't more priority given to funding for preventative programmes and for early intervention and support?
I want this situation to change! I have co-founded a programme promoting resilience and wellbeing in primary school children and the response from teachers, pupils and parents has been fantastic , but curriculum time and financial resources are scarce. Schools need more freedom and funding to run programmes to teach young people skills that will reduce the number and severity of mental health problems.
How can we make this happen? There needs to be DfE-funded research into what programmes are available, what works and what doesn't. Backed by research data and appropriate funding support, the most effective programmes can then be made available to all schools. The 'State of the Nation' report is pushing for a "decisive shift towards early intervention and building resilience". I share the authors' vision of
a system where no child is turned away without help or has to wait months for their condition to get worse before they can get the support they need.
CentreForum welcome views on how to reach their goals and their contact details are at the end of the document.
My colleagues and I also welcome your thoughts on this issue. Please get in touch.
This article was originally posted on the RWS website on 12th April 2016.