Talking About Children’s Mental Health

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Lynn How

Lynn is the Editor at Teacher Toolkit. With 20 years of primary teaching and SLT experience, she has been an Assistant Head, Lead Mentor for ITT and SENCO. She loves to write and also has her own SEMH and staff mental health blog: Lynn...
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Why are so many children suffering with mental health issues?

In classrooms across the UK there is an epidemic more prevalent than the flu. Approximately 10% of children have an ongoing mental health issue. A whopping 70% of those children have not received appropriate intervention at an early age. Then there are those whose issues go unnoticed and aren’t included in the reported figures.

This perspective is a generational one. It appears that year on year, the mental health needs of children in schools increases.

In terms of general happiness, each generation, seems to be more and more discontented. Let’s take a look at who’s who.

Baby boomers

The post-war generation were rebuilding after the Second World War. They didn’t have a lot but they knew to appreciate it.

Career opportunities were limited and that was fine as not every little boy expected to be a professional footballer. When it came to aspirations, there was no illusion of grandeur. Children’s feet were firmly planted on the ground (particularly the girls!).

The Xennials

Fast forward a few years to my generation – the Xennials.

Growing up we had limited technology at our fingertips and modems that made strange noises. It took longer to load a webpage than it did to ‘cook’ a pot noodle. Then suddenly, we were in possession of smart phones, with the whole world at our fingertips. Still at an age where we were young enough to understand how to use them and evolve with the technology.

It is no wonder (yet not acceptable) that we spend so much time on our devices and less time interacting with our children. A quote from an article in Time magazine sums up our world of work,  ‘Millennials got so many participation trophies growing up that a recent study showed that 40% believe they should be promoted every two years, regardless of performance.’

To top that off, we constantly compare ourselves by viewing our friends’ polished social media lives. We portray our own public social media lives carefully, enhancing the good bits and hiding the dirty laundry behind those staged smiles. The savvy among us know the score, it is not all as it seems. However, how are the younger generations supposed to navigate through this social media minefield? Dissatisfaction with our place in the world can be an issue for some of this generation.

The millennials

Next, the millennials, suffering many of the same traits but to a greater degree. They have always had the world at their finger tips on their phones.

This generation have grown up with their teenage years displayed for all to see on social media. They are the cohorts where university is literally for everyone and failure is not an option.

Some in this generation have high expectations of lifestyle and income but have not been able to live up to it. Everything is available and it will arrive the next day in the post, probably paid for on credit – my parents’ generation saved for things, mine and subsequent generations buy first pay later (because we can’t possibly wait for anything).

 Generation Z and beyond

The current generation.

The children of the xennials and millennials. Their grandparents’ and great-grandparents’ post-war hardship is nothing more than hearsay. Primary school children have smart phones as young as Year 3. They have access to games and content suitable for adults, with parents too liberal to do anything about it. They are victims or perpetrators of cyber bullying in their own bedrooms. Even access to porn creates unrealistic expectations of the opposite sex and relationships.

Something they own breaks, it gets replaced. Stuff is cheap and accessible and these children have plenty of it. Experiences and amazing holidays are happening at a younger and younger age; when you’ve been there and done that by the time you are 16, what is there to look forward to? Aspirations are sky high, with parents and schools touting mantras such as ‘be what you want to be’, ‘anything is possible if you work for it’. Unrealistic expectations of themselves and what their lives ‘should’ look like are rife.

Overstretched teaching staff are struggling to deal with the increasing social and emotional needs of the children in their classes as effectively as they’d like (but they are all doing their best). The warning signs are there in many primary aged children.

Some support

The following articles will help you begin to navigate the challenge of supporting children with their mental health.

The TT blogging team includes experts in working with children suffering from Mental Health issues. Do get in touch with any questions you might have about children in your care and we will do our best to put you in touch with someone who can help.

4 thoughts on “Talking About Children’s Mental Health

  1. Great blog post. You sum up the situation perfectly. My only worry is what is to come next.

  2. Whilst I agree with the notion that potential drivers have changed over the course of time, I am yet to be convinced that MH is actually on the increase in young people – although, from my own experience, there is no doubt a correlation linked to terminal exams and high stakes accountability within a flawed system of inspection. The Excellence in Cities initiative clearly demonstrated that (surprise, surprise!) early intervention was key but that early prognosis was also essential.

    The element that has suffered most over the last 20-30 yrs for me is the lack of a medical model within CAMHS, a reduction in staffing and an extremely poor referral system. Alongside this put the huge reduction in focus on pastoral care post-social inclusion rhetoric and legislation, and the demise of PSHE, and there’s your recipe for disaster. NHS Commissioning Boards were addressing these issues with their Transformation Plans but they cannot proceed effectively without the requisite expertise in clinicians and they are simply not there – it will be some time before it improves. Therefore, it seems Natasha Devon’s idea of an MH advocate/first aider/mentor/counsellor (whichever guise suits context) might be a simple way forward but, it is worth acknowledging, that there remains an approximate 10 year gap between symptoms and intervention (CAMHS) – see – so what are we doing in primary schools?!

    So what next steps? The simplest response for schools must be to reflect upon ethos and vision before auditing need (students AND staff); focussing on levels of need; CPD or external support; etc. We will only truly begin to address needs adequately when full audit and research is complete and funding is ring fenced to support students (and staff). It is in our hands but, the real question is, is it our priority? Only schools can answer that question and that takes courage and deeply honest reflection.

    1. Hello @bocks1 and thank you for your perspective. Children are certainly more accountable within this education system for their educational outcomes which cannot be healthy. My perspective is based on what I have noticed within my own experience. Speaking to various SENDCo colleagues, they share the frustrations with the referral systems and the gap that you have cited between symptoms and intervention is 10 years too long. Thank you for the link – I’ve downloaded the report. I think that at classroom level, if you ask a teacher if the emotional health and wellbeing of students is a top priority, they would agree that it was. However, I don’t suppose many feel like they have enough resources to provide the support these children need at an early juncture. I hope that for these and the next generation that a more child-centred approach to education is on the cards. I also found this today: which is a portal providing free training for professionals working with children who have mental health needs.

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