The Government published it’s plan for mental health care in schools for 2019, but do the plans go far enough?According to a report by The Times in 2017, Britain’s teenagers are the unhappiest in the world. One in ten children aged between five and sixteen are said to have mental health problems. Meanwhile, the NSPCC reported just this year that the number of schools seeking help from NHS mental health services has risen by a third — almost half of these from primary schools. So it is a welcome relief that we are now starting to see some policy aimed at solving the young people’s mental health crisis.
Young people are under increasing pressure. Whether it be through the social pressure that comes with regular social media use, increasing stress caused by longer, more difficult exams, or the pain associated with long waiting times for mental health services, something needed to be done to make sure our children and young people are supported with their mental health.
The Health and Social Care secretary's announcement, which states that from 2019 schools will trialling a mental health workforce in schools scheme, is welcome news. As is the July announcement that mental health education will become compulsory in schools from 2020. But some commentators and education specialists are worried that both don’t go far enough, especially as some schools are unlikely to see the benefits of both for the next two years.
To investigate, we’re going to look at what long term impact the mental health workforce in schools and colleges could have, as well as the new mental health education curriculum.
What is the mental health workforce in schools?With questions over waiting times for mental health services, the mental health workforce announcement stated that hundreds of new mental health workers will be present in schools starting in 2019. The aim is to get waiting times for mental health services down to four weeks.
On the surface, this is excellent news. However, many teachers and students will be left empty handed, as it will only be trialled in seven “trailblazer” regions across the UK. Because of this, the majority of schools in the UK will not have immediate access to improved mental services. The plan is to train hundreds of mental health practitioners as part of the mental health workforce in 2019, increasing to 8,000 by 2023.
This staggered implementation of the new mental health workforce policy has led some to question whether it goes far enough. Barnado’s, the children’s charity, raised concerns that hundreds of thousands of children will still be without the help they need to treat their problems quickly. They also stated that the policy was “too little, too late.”
Though the concerns raised are true to some extent, it is still good to see that we are starting to move in the right direction. Mental illness amongst students is on the rise, and the trial will at least give us some idea as to whether the government’s plans go far enough to solving the problem.
One thing is for certain, they will have a positive impact. Especially when considering the impact groundbreaking services like Mindspace have had in Barnsley’s secondary schools. Like the planned mental health workforce, this scheme also increases and embeds mental health practitioners in schools — bringing mental health services closer to home.
Teachers report that not only does it help with students mental health issues, it also allows them to focus on what they truly excel at — teaching.
What about the new mental health curriculum?As the saying goes, prevention is often better than the cure. So whilst the mental health workforce is undoubtedly a force for the good, the announcement of a new mental health curriculum in July is perhaps even more exciting.
The new curriculum comes off the back of a survey in which teachers, students and parents were asked what they felt should be included as part of RSE classes. The aim is to build up students understanding of mental health, as well as giving them better mental resilience when it comes to coping with the day-to-day of mental health issues.
Like the mental health workforce, some have criticised the decision to delay implementation until 2019. But the fact that we’re going to have it on the curriculum itself is cause for celebration. If we are going to solve the young people’s mental health crisis in schools, steps need to be taken. And in the case of both the new mental health curriculum and the introduction of the mental health workforce, they are.
Young people must feel supported. Through understanding mental health, and the impact it can have on their peers, social support networks between students should be strengthened through the increased knowledge and education that will come with the new curriculum.
Is mental health in schools moving in the right direction?Though there may be some criticisms about the breadth and the timing of the new government policies, it is clear that calls for increasing awareness, education and treatment of mental health issues have been heard. Whether they go far enough remains to be seen, but the direction we are travelling in is certainly the right one. Through the mental health workforce and the mental health curriculum, the worrying trends of children’s mental health may, in some way, be reversed.
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