The school mental health organisation Minds Ahead and the education and youth ‘think and action-tank’ LKMco have issued a report which synthesises the best research available on the scale and causes of the issues relating to youth mental health within the education and health sectors. The report also provides some practical recommendations for policy makers and practitioners to help tackle some of the key issues.
The report highlights:
The growing recognition in recent years that the disproportionate focus on physical health and the neglect of mental health needs to end. Besides mental ill health’s obvious impact on millions of people’s wellbeing and life satisfaction, its effect on physical health, education and the labour market is too great to ignore.
That the need for improved mental health support is most urgent amongst young people (with 75% of mental health problems beginning before the age of 18 and where early signs are unaddressed, escalation can lead to long term struggles with physical health, education and work).
There is considerable uncertainty as to the cause of the increased incidence of mental ill health amongst young people and the phenomenon is not unique to the UK. Posited explanations include the role of social media, a high-pressure education system and labour market uncertainty.
A combination of under-resourcing, lack of expertise in schools and difficulty commissioning and accessing the right kind services has led to patchy and insufficient access to support.
A number of structural changes within the health sector have sought to improve provision. These include: a gradual move away from a ‘tiered’ model that triages access to support based on degree of need; the introduction of multi-speciality teams through which patients should be able to access the most appropriate form of support; and, Clinical Commissioning Groups that were expected to better match supply of services to demand.
Changes have also been announced to help schools better support pupils’ mental health. These include: the establishment of a new role for mental health leads within school; a greater emphasis on partnership with families; and new Ofsted criteria. However, whilst well intentioned, these changes have yet to be properly implemented.
Ultimately, a combination of patchy implementation, a severe lack of funding and a shortage of adequately trained specialists mean the government is likely to miss many of its own targets in relation to mental health.
The report schedules 15 recommendations for action and improvement including:
The introduction of a new school-based mental health development programme to create a new cadre of pre-clinical mental health specialists working in schools, the development of campaigns and careers outreach programmes for school-aged pupils to encourage more young people to consider careers in youth mental health and a call on the government to halt real-term falls in per pupil funding by ensuring school funding keeps pace with increasing costs and pupil numbers.
Click here to read the full report.