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‘I am a one in 10’ Half of all mental illness in adults manifests before the age of 15 and with three children in every class likely to be affected schools are having to be more proactive in their approach to this aspect of healthcare. Caroline Roberts reports

MENTAL HEALTH AND EMOTIONAL WELLBEING are matters of increasing concern for anyone working with children and young people. The most comprehensive study from recent years, the 2004 British child and adolescent mental health survey from the Office for National Statistics, found that almost 10 per cent of those aged five to 16 have a clinically diagnosable mental disorder. In rough terms, it equates to three children in every class. Conduct disorders accounted for around half of cases, with other common problems including anxiety, depression, ADHD and autism spectrum disorders. It’s estimated that a further 15 per cent have emotional wellbeing issues that put them at risk of a clinical diagnosis in the future. It seems likely that the situation has deteriorated over the past 10 years as pressures on young people mount. Increasing online access means more exposure to damaging content, often of a sexual nature, and the growth in social media use has resulted in more cases of cyberbullying. Figures for 2012/13 from the Childline report, Can I tell you something?, showed an 87 per cent rise in calls about online bullying compared with the previous year. The Childline figures also show an increase of 41 per cent in calls about self-harm, while hospital data reveals that admissions due to self-harm have risen by 68 per cent over the past decade. There is also the effect on family life of the difficult economic climate – research shows that children growing up in disadvantaged circumstances are three times more likely to develop a mental health problem than those from affluent backgrounds. Alongside this, cuts to social care budgets in many areas mean that demand for children’s mental health services often exceeds availability. In June, children’s welfare charity, Kids Company, launched the ‘See the Child, Change the System’


campaign, which calls for more support for vulnerable children, a move supported by the NAHT. The same month, the DfE published Mental health and behaviour in schools: departmental advice, which provides guidance on how to identify and support pupils whose behaviour suggests they may have mental health needs. Half of all mental illness suffered by adults starts before the age of 15, and 75 per cent before the age of 18. This means schools have an important role to play in early intervention and promoting mental wellbeing. The document outlines the factors that can predispose children to poor mental health. These include educational difficulties, physical illness, low self-esteem, family breakdown, and social and environmental factors such as bullying, discrimination and socio-economic deprivation. It also sets out how schools can help their students to become more resilient, as well as giving advice on referrals to child and adolescent mental health services (CAMHS) and how to access community support. Tackling the issue will mean a big culture change, says NAHT policy adviser Siôn Humphreys. “Given the decline of external support and the emergence of more complex needs, schools will need to be more proactive.”

Whole-school ethos One school that is ahead of the game is Framwellgate School in Durham, an 11-18 academy, where promoting mental wellbeing has long been part of the whole-school ethos. “We started by asking: what is the totality of the student’s experience from when they first come into contact with the E school, and what kind of person are we trying to develop?”


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04/09/2014 16:02

Profile for Steve Smethurst

Leadership Focus magazine Sept/Oct 2014  

Leadership Focus magazine, September/October 2014, published by Redactive Publishing on behalf of the NAHT.

Leadership Focus magazine Sept/Oct 2014  

Leadership Focus magazine, September/October 2014, published by Redactive Publishing on behalf of the NAHT.