In December 2017 the government set out its plans to transform children and young people’s mental health provision. We spoke to our National Anti-Bullying Youth Board, a group of young people who represent Anti-Bullying Ambassadors across the UK and Ireland, and shared our response to the proposals.
The government has published its plans to improve young people’s health, a challenge which requires an urgent and comprehensive response. According to Young Minds, 1 in 10 children has a diagnosable mental health disorder and almost 1 in 4 children and young people shows some evidence of mental ill health (including anxiety and depression). There is overwhelming evidence of the need for improvement, with 3 in 4 children with a diagnosable mental health condition not getting access to the support that they need.
The government’s Green Paper sets out the following proposals:
- every school and college will be encouraged to appoint a designated lead for mental health
- a new mental health workforce of community-based mental health support teams will be created
- a new 4-week waiting time for NHS children and young people’s mental health services will be piloted in some areas
We welcome the focus on the importance of schools and the clear role they have to play in supporting children and young people’s mental health.
However, the proposed mental health support teams and waiting time targets are currently due to be rolled out to only a quarter of the country in the next five years. In order to adequately support young people experiencing mental health problems these proposals need to be rolled out much quicker and on a wider scale.
We are also pleased to see reference made to the benefits of school-wide anti-bullying programmes as “cost-effective” and having “potential to reduce bullying levels”. With this in mind, we feel these proposals should go further in highlighting the link between bullying and mental health and the impact that whole-school approaches to reducing and preventing bullying can have on improving young people’s mental health and wellbeing.
Finally, we strongly recommend that the proposals state that bullying should be central to the remit of the new Designated Senior Leads as part of a whole-school approach to mental health.
Bullying and Mental Health
Research from our Anti-Bullying training sessions reveals that bullying is a prominent issue, with 61% of primary school children and 49% of secondary school children having experienced some form of bullying. A survey of 1,865 UK young people conducted in 2015 as part of The Diana Award’s #Back2School campaign revealed the impact bullying can have on young people’s emotional wellbeing: More than a third of young people (36%) are worried about returning to school because of bullying 42% of young people claimed bullying kept them up at night 41% of young people claimed they changed their eating habits because of bullying Nearly 1 in 4 (24%) of young people reported that bullying made them feel suicidal Over half (52%) of young people reported that bullying made them feel depressed
Research indicates that school bullying has a significant impact on victims’ likelihood to develop mental problems such as depression and anxiety. It has also been found that bullying in childhood is associated with long-term negative consequences for health, relationships and even job prospects.
Bullying can have a very negative effect on someone's mental health. It can make them feel defeated, isolated and helpless. It can leave someone feeling as if they don't have anyone to turn to or anyone that they can trust to help them. – National Anti-Bullying Youth Board Member, 14
Furthermore, there is evidence to show that many of the symptoms associated with mental health issues may increase young people’s likelihood to be involved in bullying: according to the Anti-Bullying Alliance, “children who have low self-esteem, are anxious or socially withdrawn, and who have behavioural, emotional, or peer relationship problems are at greater risk of becoming victims or bully-victims at school.“.
It is therefore crucial that Designated Senior Leads for mental health in schools have responsibility for preventing and tackling bullying as part of their remit. Mental Health Leads should be given the training and resources needed to support young people who have experienced bullying as well as an understanding of best practice in implementing whole-school approaches to bullying. This would ensure that young people at risk of developing longer-term mental health issues as a result of bullying are given the early intervention and support they need.
Our Youth Board’s Response
Members of our National Anti-Bullying Youth Board generally responded positively to the proposed introduction of Mental Health Leads in school:
I think every school having a member of staff trained to recognise and understand mental health would be hugely beneficial. Lots of cases of mental health problems in young people go unspoken about, and even unrecognised, and that needs to change. – Youth Board Member, 17
By having these support networks incorporated into students’ everyday life at school, it helps them to understand that it is ok to have mental health problems and that there is always someone that they can turn to if they are in need of assistance. – Youth Board Member, 15 An important consideration raised is the impact of school size on how effective one staff member would be in getting mental health support to where it is needed most:
In smaller schools I can see this being much more effective. In a school with 1000s of pupils it is going to be difficult for a lead to look out for so many people. – Youth Board Member, 18
We have a school counsellor already but she is quite inaccessible to the mass population of the students. I think a leader in each school would be great because then students have an accessible route of dealing with their problems. – Youth Board Member, 14
Due to the fact that my school is very small compared to almost any other school (210 pupils) it would have very little effect […] What would help however is giving teachers basic training on how to respond, how to notice symptoms and knowing when to refer students to the new specialists as teachers are the main people that the students will see on a regular basis. – Youth Board Member, 15
The Youth Board were similarly positive about the potential introduction of local mental health support teams outlined in the Green Paper:
I think that this is an excellent idea as it will help those who are experiencing mental health issues to get the support that they need, when they need it. This would offer an immediate service to young people as sometimes there can be long waiting lists for the CAMHS in my area. – Youth Board member, 14
I think that this is a good idea, as mental health requires specialists to deal with it as it can be a very complex issue at times.
- Youth Board member, 15
One young person noted that the support teams’ ability to provide support to young people with mental health issues as a result of bullying would be beneficial but highlighted the importance of combining this approach with preventative measures:
This [support from local mental health teams] will most certainly help if done correctly, but it is just as important to stop the bullying from happening in the first place.
- Youth Board member, 15