As the ONS release the latest statistics on mental health disorders in our children and young people, we consider the impact increasing mental health issues have in our schools, and what our responsibility is to combat them.
Major surveys of the mental health of children and young people have been carried out in England in 1999, 2004 and 2017. Unsurprisingly, the rates of mental disorders in children aged 5 to 19 have increased over time from 1:10 in 1999 and 2004 to 1:8 in 2017. In a class or form of 30 students, that means 12.8% (almost 4 students) will have a mental disorder. The term ‘disorder’ relates to four broad categories: emotional, behavioural, hyperactivity and other lesson common disorders.
Recent updated guidance from the DFE, entitled Mental Health and Behaviour in Schools (November 2018) suggests that schools should place a greater emphasis on developing a mentally healthy, resilient whole school environment in order to prevent this. Taking a graduated response to presenting mental health issues and putting support in place is suggested as part of combating the rise in mental health issues. There is also a compelling argument that we have a statutory requirement to this graduated response and developing good subject knowledge across our staff so that we can proactively ‘promote the welfare of children…and prevent the impairment of children’s health or development’ (KCSIE).
So, whilst we await support from the DFE through their Green Paper commitments, what can we do to combat this rise in Mental Health issues? Those children who end up doing well despite adversity have usually had at least one stable committed relationship with a supportive parent, caregiver or other adult. This buffers them from development disruption and builds skills such as the ability to plan, monitor and regulate behaviour and adapt to changing circumstances (Cambridge MA: Centre on the Developing Child; 2015). People and relationships are the biggest influences of change for resilience and mental health. Whatever the level of support needed for a child, whether it is a smile, a caring conversation, accessing and navigating them to support or a CAHMS referral, it is people and the relationship which will change the odds. In the busy-ness of the school day and with the challenges we face with constant pressure for achieving, change and the most challenging of financial pressures, it is our time to relate, which is the most precious commitment we can make.
When adults take time to talk with children and young people about their talents, interests and goals it strengthens the relationship between them and has a massive motivational impact. In fact, pupils whose interests and talents are nurtured are 68 % more likely to want to master what they’re learning at school, and 50 % more likely to give their best effort at school (Search Institute; May 2015).