Jonathan Glazzard: Pledge on mental health is just a start

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THE Government’s determination to address mental health issues in children and young people is commendable, and represents a political commitment to a very important issue.

The Prime Minister is determined to correct, in her words, the ‘historic injustice’ of unfair discrimination and poor treatment.

Support for children and young people in schools and colleges is inconsistent and waiting times too long. One in 10 young people have a diagnosable mental health condition and children with mental health problems face unequal life chances. Half of problems are established before the age of 14.

The proposals in the Green Paper, published this month, outline a three-pillared approach.

Firstly, it is proposed that a ‘Designated Senior Leader’ for children and young people’s mental health should be appointed in every school. The designated leader will play an important role in reducing possible triggers for poor mental health and in training all staff.

Secondly, it is proposed that Mental Health Support Teams will be established to improve the link between schools and local health services. Thirdly, there is a proposal to introduce four-week waiting times for children and young people who need access to specialist mental health services.

Current service provision is at crisis point. Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services (CAMHS) are over-stretched, resulting in extremely long waiting lists and strict referral criteria. Help often comes too late or young people do not receive any form of help.

It is proposed that all children and young people will be taught about mental health and wellbeing through Relationships and Sex Education (RSE) and Personal, Health and Social Education (PHSE). However, the importance of integrating mental health across the full breadth of the curriculum is not addressed and this should be considered.

Additionally, the importance of providing children and young people with an inclusive sex and relationships education is vital. This is also not acknowledged in the Green Paper, although there is acknowledgement about the link between LGBT issues and mental health.

It is proposed that new research will be funded, including research in how best to support vulnerable families. The Government plans to commission further research into interventions that support parents.

The role of teacher training in supporting new teachers to more effectively identify mental health problems and provide support is highlighted. Additionally, a working group of social media and digital sector companies will be established to explore how to keep children and young people safe online.

A 12-week consultation period follows the publication of the Green Paper. Whilst we welcome the proposals, we have concerns that the role of the assessment system in contributing to poor mental health is not explicitly acknowledged at this stage. The role of terminal examinations in contributing to test anxiety warrants further consideration.

We also have concerns that the proposals, if rolled out, will not reach all children and young people with 75-80 per cent not receiving the support they need by the end of 2022-23. It’s a start – but there’s much more still to do.

Jonathan Glazzard is Professor of Teacher Education at Leeds Beckett Carnegie School of Education

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