A recent study by the Children’s Commissioner for England is shedding new light on the state of mental health services in Britain. The commissioner’s report states that many children with learning disabilities – that do not relate to mental health – are spending lengthy periods in institutions. These institutions are often located far from homes, with children being admitted for months on end.
According to the commissioner, Anne Longfield, “For many of their families it is a nightmare. The onus is now on ministers, the NHS, the CQC, Ofsted and local authorities to make sure that the most vulnerable of children are not locked out of sight for years on end simply because the system is not designed to meet their needs.”
A system under pressure
The report also found that referrals to mental health institutions for children under the age of 11 has increased by over 50% since 2016. This has resulted in an increase in refusals as institutions struggle to keep up. Further compounding the issue is the increase in mental health episodes at schools across the country. Self-harm, bullying and eating disorders are just some of the common challenges teachers see young children and teenagers grapple with on a daily basis.
Dani Worthington, head teacher of Moorside Community Primary School in Halifax, says of the situation, “We’re seeing an increase year on year – more and more children with a variety of problems and it just seems to be getting harder and harder to manage. We’ve seen children headbutting walls, punching walls, kicking walls, and this can sometimes happen on a daily basis…”
New initiatives aimed at alleviating the pressure
The government has stepped up efforts to improve mental health services for children, starting with the Mental Health Link Programme. The programme is geared to offer early interventions by facilitating closer working between schools and the NHS.
Secretary for Education, Damian Hinds says the initiative will help to increase access to mental health services, “Demand on mental health services has been rising… in a way that’s a good thing because people with mental health conditions who a generation ago just got ignored, those people are now able to get help. But it does mean we need to be responding and evolving in line.”
The programme will provide a link between schools and NHS practitioners with at least one senior mental health lead being trained and deployed in every school to help identify and report signs of mental health issues in students.
Early signs of mental health issues
The increase in mental health issues in our schools raises the call for parents, educators and governmental institutions to work in closer unison to support young children. A particularly worrying issue is the fact that many children with learning disabilities and/or autism are being treated and held in mental health institutions.
This, arguably, contributes to the pressure placed on the already strained health care system, while causing more harm than good to children who require less intrusive interventions. This also highlights the importance of understanding what constitutes signs of mental illness. If your child begins to show any of these signs you should try to talk to them about how they are feeling, or speak to a professional.
- Persistently low mood
- Withdrawn from social events
- Uncontrollable anger
- Tearfulness and emotional outbursts
- Loss of interest in hobbies and things they used to enjoy
- Trouble eating and/or sleeping
- Signs of self harming
What if my child has shows trouble with learning?
If your child has trouble with certain subjects, or is struggling to adapt to the school curriculum, don’t panic. The causes may be far less serious than mental health issues. As a parent, make sure an open line of communication exists to give your child the confidence to discuss any issues he or she may have with you and your partner.
School can be a daunting experience for some children and attentive care and support may be all that’s needed to nudge them along as they adapt to a new life stage. A learning assessment is a good place to start if your child expresses concerns about schoolwork.
Talk to us about our educational support services for young students to learn more about how we can help your child tackle his/her educational career with confidence.