The benefits of mental wellbeing

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Today’s teenagers are growing up in challenging times and the incoming chief executive of children’s mental health charity Place2Be, Catherine Roche, says that their mental wellbeing is critical to all our futures.

Young people need to develop “true grit” according to the head of one of the country’s leading public schools. He is right. Today’s teenagers are growing up in a much more complex, public and unforgiving world than their parents, or even their older brothers and sisters, ever did.

Three children in every classroom aged between five and 16-years-old has a mental health problem, and among teenagers rates of depression and anxiety have increased by 70 per cent in the past 25 years.

This affects their ability to learn, to progress to further education or training, as well as attendance and behaviour in and out of the classroom. 

Resilience is the watchword of our times and while many young people are able to navigate the difficult waters of their teenage years, others need help if they are to reach their potential and avoid future problems. 

The government is clear in its commitment to support schools in early identification of mental health issues, recognising the benefits on youth offending and disorder costs. But with Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services (CAMHS) under great pressure, referrals can take many months – an age in a young life. 

School-based intervention, such as Place2Be, is proving effective in primary schools around the country, as well as in a growing number of secondary schools.

The perils of the digital culture, where every step of an adolescent’s life can be exposed to a huge, often critical and unsympathetic audience within a click, are well documented.

Combine these with the move from the nurturing surroundings of primary school to the big new world of secondary school, attainment pressures, the complications of 21st century family life and the onset of adolescence, and it is no surprise that so many young people find their teenage years painful, stressful and potentially damaging.

This presents a daunting challenge to our educators, who know all too well the impact a young person’s behaviour can have on themselves, their peers and their families. 

Relationships in the busy secondary school environment are very different to primary school where pupils are taught by a single teacher who knows each child and their individual circumstances and particular needs. 

Transition can be a difficult time and this is the area of Place2Be’s particular focus in secondary schools, with our clinicians working in 19 UK schools at present. These include a number of “all through” schools.

Each of these has a Place2Be clinician with a specific adolescent mental health skill-set integrated into daily academic life, who manages a number of volunteer counsellors.

We currently offer one-to-one short and long-term counselling, brief counselling, as well as a drop-in service for key stage 3 pupils. It is a flexible service which is tailored to the school’s specific needs. 

It takes place within the school day, in the normal setting of a dedicated Place2Be room, with issues dealt with as they are presented, rather than waiting for an external appointment.

This means attendance is high and the possibility of stigma reduced. Children are referred by teachers, their parents or carers for assessment and parents give written consent for counselling to take place.

Our holistic approach includes counselling and support for parents, grandparents and carers, as well as support, consultation and training for school staff.

Place2Be works mainly in areas of deprivation where growing up in economically challenged backgrounds often has a direct correlation with low academic achievement and poor mental health. These children are at risk of not reaching their potential and it is here that our work is of particular value. 

A mentoring programme which focuses on the transition from junior to senior school has been developed recently. Pupils aged from 16 to 18 in a number of secondary schools support primary school pupils in their area through the move, acquiring life-skills and experience while making a meaningful difference to younger children within their community. 

Funding from Impetus-PEF enables us to extend our work to include 70 schools by 2017, providing a financial subsidy over two years which will enable schools to gather research data on the benefits of mental wellbeing, behaviour, engagement with learning and academic progress.

It is proven to help troubled children be happier, better behaved and to learn more effectively. Teachers can focus on teaching and staff morale also benefits. Better supported parents are able to engage more willingly with the school.

The results of our work in secondary schools are positive. Following our intervention, teachers report that 63 per cent of children’s wellbeing improved, parents and children themselves described a 74 and 75 per cent improvement respectively. Teachers report that 70 per cent of children whose difficulties interfered with their learning improved and also an improvement in 70 per cent of children whose difficulties were a burden on the teacher or class.

  • Catherine Roche is  chief executive of mental health charity Place2Be.

Further information
Place2Be is a provider of school-based emotional and mental health services, working in more than 200 primary and secondary schools across the UK. Place2Be’s work reaches 75,000 children, helping them to cope with wide-ranging and often complex social issues including bullying, bereavement, domestic violence, family breakdown, neglect and trauma. Visit www.place2be.org.uk


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