Imagine you’re a child growing up in today’s world
You’re likely to feel pressured to perform well at school. You might have anxieties about who you are, what you’ll do and achieve as an adult. You might have worries about the things you hear on the news and what it all means. You might be immersed in a digital world via social media thanks to a society full of new technology. You could have a difficult home life.
Add to this the chance that you might be affected by a mental health disorder.
Would you have the language to articulate how you’re feeling? Who would you turn to for help?
And what if you struggled to get the support you needed?
Where we are
One in eight children in England have a mental health disorder, as found by an NHS survey. According to a study conducted by Young Minds, it is still estimated that around two-thirds (approx. 550,000) of children and young people in England with a diagnosable mental health condition will not receive treatment by 2020/21.
The core of our work at Barnardo’s is to put children and young people first; this means that we encourage them to participate and speak up. Young people deserve to have their voice heard - especially on a topic as important and urgent as mental health.
We spoke to young people about what they need.
This is what they told us.
More support at school
“All teachers should see the warning signs. When I was suffering from depression and was self-harming, no teachers spotted the signs” - Adam*
We asked young people about the support they receive at school, and if it was adequate. Some had received amazing support - one girl explained that her teacher’s patience and understanding had helped save her life. Others explained the gaps they saw first-hand.
The majority of the young people we spoke to also preferred the idea of having multiple people at school to provide support. They saw that one person being responsible for it would be too much to handle. The importance of consistency and a joined-up approach was also key - they didn’t want to have to explain their story to multiple people.
Learn about it earlier
“They need to teach it in primary school, teach that it’s normal - do not wait until high school when people have already been conditioned that it’s not” - Maryam*
Another crucial point raised was to introduce the topic of mental health at an earlier age. They felt this would help with tackling stereotypes and could help prevent bullying of those with mental health issues. Children we spoke to were most likely to have felt let down at primary school or pupil referral unit rather than secondary school.
Being taught about it at a younger age would also help children recognise any symptoms they might experience - for many young people, awareness of mental health issues comes only after they’re diagnosed. As a society, we can do our bit to help with this at home - it’s vital that we’re talking to young people about the importance of mental health in order to reduce stigma around it.
“I had to wait nine months - the standard is 7-9 months. In that amount of time, things can go from bad to really critical” - Ellie*
It’s no secret that the waiting times for specialist NHS services can be extremely long. But for young people, the lengthy wait to speak to a professional can be disheartening and, at worst, dangerous. Young people discussed possible solutions for this - one way to address this issue would be a target for shorter waiting lists. Having easier access to support in the interim would also help; many young people feel that they should be informed of support groups and resources that can help while they wait to be seen.
What we're doing to help
You might be wondering where we fit into this. We’re doing more than ever before to help give young people the support they need through our mental services.
Within schools, we’re aiming to improve emotional and social literacy and reduce aggressive behaviours through a curriculum known as PATHS (Promoting Alternative Thinking Strategies). The results of this have been promising so far - 60 per cent of children on the program showed a reduction in disruptive behaviour and aggression.
In our specialist services like Mandala in the South West of England, traumatised and abused children are provided with a calm and safe space within which they engage in creative therapies to help them express their emotions, improve self-confidence and resilience.
Another standout example is Solar in Solihull. This service helps children and young people up to the age of 19 to get access to mental health support in a timely manner. Figures from the National Mental Health Data Set show Solar is the only community mental health service in England exceeding the national target of a 30 per cent increase in access to NHS community services for those with a diagnosed mental health issue.
We’re proud of this progress, but we know more young people need support. It’s vital that we speak up to make sure that young people don’t have to struggle on their own.
We’re keen to see young people’s concerns and hopes around this crucial health issue addressed - and we’ll continue to amplify their voice whenever and wherever we can to help bring in the change they need.
Mental health and well-being is one of our strategic priorities. Find out more about our work.
*Names have been changed in order to protect identities.