Esther Ranzen has highlighted a worrying trend with our young people through her work with Childline. In the last year they have heard from more suicidal children than ever before and she says these numbers have increased steadily “to an alarming degree”. Our children need urgent mental health support and they’re not getting enough of what they need from parents, from the NHS, from schools and universities and certainly not online.
Why is that?
Her theory is that as parents, we are not giving our children enough time – especially the working parents. These days most of us work – she says that we need to take a “hard look at how we live our lives” because being addicted to being busy is “depriving young people of something they need as much as oxygen: attention and time”. She remembers her mother being a “housewife” and focusing on her children first and foremost. It doesn’t always work like that of course, some stay at home parents are focused on other things, but there is something to be said for spending more time together with your children when they’re young. Just as much to be said for being around when they are teenagers and getting into difficulties too.
She also discusses the loss of the extended family in our society – something I’ve been thinking about of late, with my daughter in Bali. She’s living with a homestay mum and her young family, but within their communal square, there also lives the other brothers, wives, children, grandmothers and great grandmothers – in this photo, she said the Grandmother looks after the baby and the rest of the time she sweeps the yard all day. Not sure I’d get my mother to come and do that, but there is definitely something to be said for relying on other family members to help support when required:-
Esther says that young people are protecting their parents from knowing they are being badly bullied or abused and their professional parents are far too overstretched to be accessible, so they are turning to online friends, which in itself brings new risks and pressures. So another suggestion would surely be to highlight the issues for children on and offline within the school environment? Esher points out that the access to mental health services is “all too rare.”
Dr Antonis Kousoulis from the Mental Health Foundation, who commissioned the latest study to mark the launch of their new mental health in schools project, said: “From an independent study we know that 50 per cent of adult mental health problems are already established by the age of 14, and yet mental health education is still not compulsory at schools. Researchers found millions of parents are so busy that they haven’t thought about asking their kids how they are. Almost half the nation’s parents have never considered asking their children about their mental health, it has emerged.
50% seems very high when you consider the fact many parents believe their youngsters are suffering from stress caused by school issues. Two thirds said they believed their kids ‘have it tough’, with more academic pressure placed upon them than their own generation when they were growing up.
It also emerged two in five think schools put pupil’s well-being at risk by focusing too much on academic performance.
“It is crucial that we reach young people early and give them the knowledge and skills they will need to understand and protect their mental health in today’s complex world.”
The study also found 70 per cent of parents agree young people should be taught about mental health at school, though one in four incorrectly believe it is already a compulsory subject. Just ten per cent of parents think getting mental health support for their child, should they need it, would be a straightforward process.
That said, 48% think their kids have adopted a positive attitude towards mental health and those who live with mental health conditions.
The Mental Health Foundation say the next generation of young people will be the one to wipe out mental health stigma.
Helen Bohan, who leads the schools pilot project for the Mental Health Foundation, said: “It is incredibly encouraging to see students rise to the challenge of educating and supporting others with their mental health.
“We hope that the government wakes up to the need for young people to learn about mental health from a young age and join us in equipping a generation for the challenges they will face by rolling out innovative solutions like this nationwide.”