One of the most striking topics to hit the news so far in the beginning of this new year is concerning mental health among our young people. In fact over the past couple of days it has been quite overwhelming.
Yesterday, BBC Newsbeat released an article about the number of children who are self-harming is increasingly significantly, some 20% rise in the number of 10-19 year olds admitted to hospital in the past year alone. The NHS figures show a number in the region of 29,000 admissions.
Teaching Unions have been quick to point to government cuts in spending on local services, which is leaving schools with much less access to expert medical help in comparison to previous years. While this may be true, there is plenty more to this story
Dr Max Davie, a spokesperson for the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health (RCPCH), says feeling pressured at school, or by friends, family and the media can all play their part in why young people self-harm. He states, ‘We have to remember that people self-harm because they’re in psychological distress that’s so severe that they prefer physical harm or physical pain to their psychological state. So the real question is why are more young people experiencing unbearable psychological distress? They are often isolated and if that isolation is extended to their own families that can be very serious and damaging. There aren’t enough services. If they reach out and talk about their problems there is often no-one there who is able to listen who is able to address their issues”
Caroline Kolek, a secondary school teacher and spokesperson for the Association of Teachers and Lecturers, said: “My experience in schools and talking to colleagues is that we are seeing a rise in self-harm, predominantly among girls but also among boys as well. My reaction to those figures is disappointment really. We recognise anxiety and depression is on the rise among young people. Unfortunately there is a correlation between the figures and a decrease in funding for mental health services – we’ve lost our emotional wellbeing workers who used to come into schools, we’ve lost youth workers and there is certainly a massive underfunding in mental health services for young people so many aren’t getting the support, and their families, aren’t getting the support they need. We schools really don’t have the support we had four or five years ago.”
One of the factors that I have seen crop up a lot is that of social media. More and more young people are accessing facebook and, despite the legal age to join facebook being 13, increasing numbers of children younger than that are also appearing, in fact, I’ve even heard children as young as 7 saying they have an account there. Now that has it’s own questions attached to it, but that is a massive opportunity for people to abuse behind the comfort of a computer screen, which can cause even more pyschological harm. Should we allow young people to communicate via social media, certainly in the way that they use it? I mean I for example use my Facebook and Twitter predominantly for promoting here or sharing interesting education stuff I find, others choose to use it to post pictures of themselves (these so-called ‘selfies’) or like Katie Hopkins, to stir up controversy for attention.
So what are the government planning on doing? Well Care Minister Normal Lamb had this statement: ‘Self-harm is a sign of serious emotional distress and it is crucial that young people get the help they need. I’ve brought together a team of specialists to look at how we can improve care – including in our schools – and we are investing £150m over the next five years to help young people deal with issues like self-harm and eating disorders.’
As someone who is not much older than some of these kids, I certainly can vouch for how much stress school can put on. I’ve asked the question of ‘do we put too much pressure on our children?’ a couple of times before, and I generally think we do. I mean look how many tests these children do every year. It seems to be the way we’re moving, and we all know how some children cannot cope with exam pressures. It’s not just exams either, it’s the general school life. I went to a highly rated grammar school and at times it felt like the pressure mounted all the time because of the expectations that were put on us. For those who make it, it’s a great success for the schools, but for those who are struggling, we can see what might happen.