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Understanding Mental Health and Young People

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Understanding Mental Health and Young People


Child and adolescents are experiencing a mental health crisis that is affecting all areas of education. How can schools and teachers help students build resilience and positive mental health so they can cope with the increased stress of modern society?

Is there really a crisis?
 
It is difficult to know exactly why there is what seems to be a sudden increase in mental health problems in young people. Provision for mental health wellbeing is being made at all levels of policy, in governments, schools, trusts, etc., but still the problem persists. It is possible that in some cases, the increase may be related to increased awareness, which accompanies overall improvements in knowledge about wellbeing and an increased belief that everyone has the right to feel good about life and have all their needs met. This situation is much different from past generations where hardship and trauma were more widespread and therefore people had different expectations and ways of coping.
 
While this may explain some of the increased attention on wellbeing and mental health, the statistics show a much bleaker picture, highlighting a substantial increase in incidents of self- harm, anxiety and social disorders, eating disorders and symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder in younger and younger children. Difficulties are being seen across class, gender and ethnic lines, meaning that it is becoming a universal problem that needs to be addressed on a societal level.
 
Why is this happening?
 
There seems to be a consensus between researchers and advocates for child wellbeing that modern life is very stressful, much more so than in the past, and that students are subjected to unprecedented amount of pressure. The increase in testing at all levels of schooling have placed constant pressure for young people to reach impossible standards. The statistics regularly show that youth suicide rates peak in exam season, with many incidents occurring on or the day after an exam. The increased difficulty of the GCSE exams is contributing further to this trend, adding even more pressure to a problematic system. This stress In addition to the increased academic pressure faced by students at all levels, social media and technology have changed the social structure of society, making it much easier for bullying and harassment to go unnoticed by adults and increasing its reach. Bullied students can’t just leave the pressure and harassment at the school gates—it now follows into all areas of their private lives at all times of the day.
 
Another major issue being faced by many young people is the issue of poverty. The austerity budgets and continual cutting of services in health and education across the country means that many students are lacking access to the basic necessities of life, including food, housing, medical care and access to support services. The priorities of the government are seriously harming the lives and wellbeing of a large percentage of the population, leaving many young people to deal with major issues without support and guidance.
 
What can be done?
 
Being knowledgeable about the situation is the first step. Knowing the signs of mental distress and having awareness of the issues students are facing is very important.
 
Developing school policies and cultures that support and empower students are crucial. In this knowledge bank, Louise Kinnaird shows how to promote positive mental health in schools and Sonia Blandford describes how to deliver a whole-school approach to mental wellbeing that works for everyone. Alison Williams also shows how to develop a school- wide policy on self-harm.
 
School activities that support health and wellbeing can make a big difference to mental health. Crispin Andrews shows how sport programmes can make a difference to mental health, and Julie Pearson demonstrates how to use mindfulness to help build resilience.
 
Understanding and addressing bullying is one of the most crucial areas for teachers and leaders. Bullying comes in many forms, including relational aggression, and Deborah James shows how to identify and deal with it, while Richard Sangster presents case studies of schools that have successfully tackled bullying. Ken Corish explores the practice of trolling and its connection with self-harm.
 
Helping children deal with trauma and grief can be challenging, but students experiencing bereavement or other traumas will need support from their schools. Justine Wilson-Darke explores ways to deal with disasters and aftermath of trauma, while Katie Kohler looks at discussing death and grief with young people and Liz Koole shows how to counsel children under five experiencing bereavement.
 
Diagnosing and medicating illnesses also involve challenges. Dave Traxson explores the practice of medicating mental problems in children, while Tim Linehan offers empowerment as an alternative approach to medication and therapy.
 
School plays a large part, not only in a child’s academic attainment and cognitive progress, but also emotional control, behavioural development and physical and moral development, all of which both affect, and are affected by, mental health. And, as such, schools offer the most accessible and familiar setting for good mental health practice and early intervention in mental health problems for young people.

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