I work with a team of two other therapists from Mind in West Essex delivering CBT in schools. We work with groups or one-to-one with secondary school pupils experiencing stress, anxiety, anger management and confidence issues.
Schools can be difficult environments. You’ve got exam pressure, peer pressure and parental pressure, or sometimes lack of family support, all affecting young people. Teaching is also becoming an increasingly stressful job due to the exam targets and huge amounts of admin. Perhaps it’s no surprise that increasing numbers of teachers in Britain are accessing counselling.
What is more surprising, given the increase and prevalence of young people with mental health difficulties, is the lack of mental health education in schools. Research indicates that one in 10 young people, of school age, suffer from a mental health problem.1 Mental health problems in children and young people can be long-lasting. It is known that 50 per cent of mental illness in adult life (excluding dementia) starts before age 15 and 75 per cent by age 18.2 Research also shows that one in 15 young people in Britain have harmed themselves.3
PSHE (Personal, Social and Health Education) is part of the national curriculum. But it includes very little on spotting mental distress, what you can do to mitigate it, and where you can seek professional help. Some schools have employed counsellors, and I have seen how this really helps to embed a therapeutic culture within a school. Young people feel freer to talk about what is troubling them.
But in some schools, discussing mental health is off the agenda. This often creates an atmosphere in which young people are afraid to discuss any mental distress. They fear it will be taken as a sign of weakness and exploited or held against them.
It is a step in the right direction for local authorities to commission therapists, like my colleagues and I, to go into schools and provide a safe environment for young people to talk to us about what distresses them. There is clear evidence that embedding a counsellor or counselling service in a school more permanently produces good outcomes. Both actions usually benefit those most in need of therapeutic interventions.
However, the existing research on mental health interventions in schools, points to a need to embed general awareness in the national curriculum. The ‘DataPrev’ study,4 funded by the European Commission from 2007–2009 was a meta-analysis of research from schools across Europe, Australia and the USA. It concluded that more targeted and specialised interventions for the few individuals at the more acute end of the spectrum were greatly helped by generalised education for the school population at large.
Moreover, it seems sensible to argue that a generalised education in positive mental health can help reduce the numbers of young people at the more acute end of the spectrum who remain undiagnosed and untreated. If schools use therapists in a more joined up way, by allowing them to teach some PSHE lessons, it could go a long way to embedding greater mental resilience, and increasing awareness and understanding.
The Centre for Mental Health estimated that the cost of poor mental health to social services and the economy in England during 2009–2010 was £105 billion. When one considers the huge emotional and human cost of enduring mental distress, in addition to the economic argument, the imperative to embed positive mental health training in the national curriculum becomes pressing.
Mike Ellen is a Psychological Wellbeing Practitioner.
1. The Office of National Statistics. Green H, McGinnity A, Meltzer H, et al. Mental health of children and young people in Great Britain 2004. London: Palgrave; 2005. http://www.hscic.gov.uk/catalogue/PUB06116/ment-heal-chil-youn-peop-gb-2004-rep1.pdf (accessed 5 November 2015).
2. Dunedin Multidisciplinary Health & Development Research Unit. Welcome to the Dunedin Multidisciplinary Health and Development Research Unit (DMHDRU). http://dunedinstudy.otago.ac.nz (accessed 5 November 2015).
3. Mental Health Foundation, and The Camelot Foundation. The truth about self-harm... for young people and their friends and families. 2006. http://www.mentalhealth.org.uk/content/assets/pdf/publications/truth_about_self_harm.pdf (accessed 5 November 2015).
4. PSSRU LSE. DataPrev: evidence-based programmes for promotion and prevention in mental health. A database, guidelines and training for policy and practice outline of a research project funded by the European Commission. http://www.pssru.ac.uk/pdf/p077.pdf (accessed 5 November 2015).