Children and young people's mental health: the role of education Expert analysis by Policy@Manchester & Manchester Institute of Education

In December 2016, the Health and Education Select Committees opened an inquiry into the role of education in children and young people's mental health.

"[Adolescent mental health services have] long been seriously underfunded and [are] unable to meet demand, leaving many young people without the help they need. Lack of timely help means that young people can sometimes only access help when they have become seriously unwell. Young people told us that they wanted services to be available within schools." - Dr Sarah Wollaston, Chair of the Health Committee

A group of our academics in the Manchester Institute of Education worked together to submit evidence to the enquiry, drawing on their expertise and research on mental health and wellbeing which is a research theme that cuts across all four of their substantive research groups (Special Educational and Additional Needs, Disadvantage and Poverty, Critical Pedagogies, and Critical Educational Policy And Leadership). Their submission centres on four key themes:

  1. Promoting emotional wellbeing, building resilience, and establishing and protecting good mental health
  2. Support for young people with mental health problems
  3. Building skills for professionals
  4. Social media and the internet

In line with the inquiry's publication of the evidence, three of our academics wrote for Manchester Policy Blogs, drawing on some of the key issues and laying out their vision for what policies are needed now.

Professor Neil Humphrey, Dr Cathy Atkinson and Dr Terry Hanley (right to left)

Professor Neil Humphrey gave an overview and analysis of how the crisis in children and young people’s mental health was created, examining the statistics and looking at the policy changes needed to tackle children and young people’s mental health issues

  • Various governments have launched strategies to improve mental health provision yet money still isn’t getting to the frontline
  • The Government’s reliance on schools to improve mental health outcomes may be part of the problem and not the cure
  • The children whose circumstances place them at the greatest levels of risk, their families, and the dedicated and caring professionals who populate the mental health care system designed to protect and support them are all being failed
  • The children’s mental health crisis is one driven by brutal cuts to CAMHS and education reforms that have turned schools into exam factories

Dr Cathy Atkinson looked at the different approaches to mental health intervention in schools and how policy in this area should be developed:

  • There are high societal and economic costs of mental health difficulties in limiting access to paid employment, independent living and community inclusion
  • The ways in which schools might help support young people’s metal health falls into three categories: universal, targeted and intensive
  • Schools need to have policies and best practice on all three levels in order for intervention to be most effective
  • Educational psychologists working in schools play an important role in identifying levers for change within a system to move towards stability and recovery
  • Policy makers must prioritise understanding young people’s perspectives and consult with them in order to implement the most effective school-based mental health support

Dr Terry Hanley considered whether technological advances are helping or hindering young people’s mental health:

  • Young people who access online counselling find it to be a rich and helpful environment
  • Online services are often pitted against more traditional face-to-face ones, such as school-based counselling
  • Constructive conversations can emerge in online forums that provide young people both information and emotional support
  • Avoiding engagement with Internet based resources would be naïve, short-sighted and ignore the many helpful developments that are going on in the virtual realm
  • Policy makers need to develop a clear strategy for investing in research and practice around online mental health practices

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