Schools mental health
It’s great news that the government is investing in child and adolescent mental health and the recently published Green Paper is timely. All of us working in mental health recognise that investing in children may delay or prevent certain mental health difficulties further down the line. Appointing Designated Senior Leads for mental health in schools certainly is warranted but what is equally important is that teachers do not become replacements for mental health professionals but are equipped to recognises mental health difficulties arising young people and be able to signpost young people and or their parents on where to seek help so that an appropriate intervention can be provided as early as possible. I believe we also need a shared language, a language that children, and parents can all understand as well as mental health professionals. People are often scared of the complex words we use to describe mental health difficulties or do not fully understand it. I believe it would be helpful to young people and their families if we could use a system, such as the one used in cognitive analytic therapy, which has a shared language developed specifically so that patients find it easy to understand and psychotherapists find it easy to explain. Likewise, although I welcome that the government has announced funding for mental health awareness training, I would like to see this based on relational thinking and on the theories of psychotherapy rather than medicine based psychiatry. Most of the common mental health problems seen in children and young people are as a result of difficult relationships in childhood rather than any chemical imbalance in the brain. How do we convince the government that is obsessed by targets, which, for instance, has laid the pathway for CBT being the most dominant model when it comes to psychotherapy? Surely again, we need to go back to relationships. Do we need to develop better relationships between children, parents and teachers? Should we be providing mental health awareness for all so that parents and teachers are all aware of the impact on themselves in terms of childhood development? Critical areas, which I see as recurring themes in my adult clients, are things such as high expressed emotion, name shame and blaming and poor lack of responding to children when they’re upset. We only have to reflect on the recent book by Robert Webb about being a boy and how as a society we expect boys to be masculine. Surely, their needs to shift that there’s more to being a man than to just be masculine? Maybe now is the time that we take a hard look at all our relationships and all of our identities. How do we reduce shame and stigma if people don’t all fit into the norm? And how do we develop this when children and young people are spending a record amount of time on the internet, looking at Facebook, Instagram, where they are bombarded with images of everybody with a seemingly a perfect life, a six-pack and perfect breasts? Surely, this creates a split or conflict in the idea of what it is to be a human being. Again, this is an area, which needs to be recognised and challenged. On one hand, we are hoping that we can have a society or an awareness, an openness which addresses mental health problems in young people but at the same time, we all know how eager children are to snatch away the screen so that they can go and post things, look at their friends and compare themselves to everybody else, and then wonder why they get to level records of self harm because they’re not good enough. I guess the government has to be commended as it is the start and maybe it can open a debate which we can all take part in and look at what we think our children need and how we can respond to our children’s needs.
I look forward to the day when teachers teach children some of the basics principles around shame and compassion. I know some practitioners from the compassionate mind world are already doing this but hopefully, it will become as important as maths or biology.