Head teachers in the U.K. are warning that untreated mental health issues in children could lead to greater problems in adult life unless more is done in schools.
The National Association of Head Teachers (NAHT) carried out a snapshot survey of 1,455 English head teachers and found that a fifth of their pupils have a mental health problem before the age of 11. Unfortunately two-thirds of these schools cannot deal with such issues.
The survey also found that almost 90 percent of staff have had to provide “more support” for pupils suffering from mental illness over the past two years. Further 43 percent of head teachers said they had been finding it harder to access services for pupils with mental illness due to specialist child and adolescent mental health services becoming completely overwhelmed. And 64 percent of schools do not have access to a counsellor on-site.
When it comes to educating school staff to help them identify signs of mental illness in pupils, only 9 percent of staff felt they had been given enough training, 45 percent said their training had been inadequate and 32 percent said they had received no training at all.
The chief executive of the mental health charity Place2Be, Catherine Roche, said children have a wide range of difficult issues to deal with, such as parental separation and divorce, the illness or death of a loved one, substance abuse and domestic violence.
“Teachers are not counsellors, and sometimes schools need professional support to make sure that problems in childhood do not spiral into bigger mental health problems later in life,” she said.
This is Children’s Mental Health Week so it’s the perfect opportunity to address this issue. What can be done about it?
For starters schools and teachers need to be better equipped to deal with their pupils’ mental health issues. This means more training, fewer financial constraints and a greater level of support from professional NHS services.
Funding for children’s mental health in the U.K. is woefully inadequate. An investigation carried out by the Labour Party revealed that, of the £250 million per year originally budgeted by the Conservative Party for “children and young people’s mental health,” there has been an underspend of £77 million this year, wrote Neha Shah in The Independent.
It’s clear from the NAHT survey that money is the main issue.
“We used to have a counselling service in school which was amazing, but due to budgetary pressures we had to stop this service,” said one head teacher. “Now there is virtually no accessible provision in our area.”
Another head teacher said: “There is a big gap in provision in this area for primary age children. When we feel we need more specialist intervention or advice than we are able to provide, there is not much else to access.”
Find out more about Children’s Mental Health Week here.