07/11/17 Yesterday’s Parliamentary debate on whether mental health education should be mandatory in schools

Yesterday I bowled down to the Houses of Parliament, along with a number of other mental health enthusiasts, to watch the debate on whether mental health education should be mandatory in schools. 

This debate was triggered by the fine folk of the Shaw Mind foundation, supported by Headspace, who obtained over 100 thousand signatures online, gently nudging the government in the right direction. 

My thoughts…

The debate was ably opened by the MP for Newcastle North, Catherine McKinnell, who effectively outlined that the current system wasn’t fit for purpose. 

I was delighted by…

There was a cross party group of MP’s who were all, essentially singing from the same hymn sheet, acknowledging that things had to change. 

As a group they were able to identify that this must be a whole school approach – that mental health education shouldn’t be confined to Personal, Social and Health education, and that it should be taught to all pupils, with peer support and mental health first aid being paramount. 

There was a running theme that there should be be mental health education on all teacher training courses. That way mental health, over the years, will become embedded in the system. 

There was an acknowledgement that schools should have firm links with CAMH’s (Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services).

One of the MP’s put forward the case for preschool child and parental support, since he felt that many issues were often ingrained in those early years.

I was also pleased to see that the information gathered in the debate would be put together to form a green paper. In case you’re wondering…

Green Papers are consultation documents produced by the Government. The aim of this document is to allow people both inside and outside Parliament to give the department feedback on its policy or legislative proposals.’

So it shows that, as well as talking about it, the debate will lead to some actual action. 

Where I feel they stumbled though…

A great deal of focus was put on building resilience in children – concentrating on the ‘treatment’ of individuals. There was little acknowledgment of the stresses of the school and the wider world and how that can and does have an impact on our young folk. I’ll expand on this later. 

One MP seemed to imply that mindfulness was the panacea for all ails. I believe if this is the route the take the treatment will be, at best, ineffective, at worse, damaging to many young people for whom mindfulness may be the wrong treatment at the wrong time. 

The MP who, rightfully, identified that support for pre school children and their parents would be beneficial sadly didn’t mention the swingeing cuts to the Sure Start scheme, that did exactly that before 350 centres closed following a 47% cut to their budgets. 

The MP who seemed to be responsible for feeding back to the minister stated that before moving forward they required ‘robust’ data on the issues. 

One set of data, in my opinion, was a complete red herring – they seem to want specific information on how the cuts to school budgets have impacted on the mental health of pupils..

What I think should happen…

Please forgive me for blatantly stealing from Neil Thompson’s PCS model on prejudice and discrimination. 

The Goverment should adopt an altogether holistic approach to this issue…

On the PERSONAL level

Yes, let’s look at building resilience in younger folk – but we must tread VERY warily here. No level of resilience can help young folk deal with some of the terrible circumstances they find themselves in. 
Yes, mindfulness may be effective for some, but let’s not fall for a ‘one size fits all’ culture. 

There are a a wide range of mental health problems with a wide range of treatments to match. 

It’s essential that all teachers develop a level of confidence to work with pupils with/ without mental ill health, and that they learn to acknowledge that they already have skills in identifying psychological distress and supporting young people with it. 

On a CULTURAL level 

Schools must look beyond doing to and doing for young people with mental health problems. This, I believe, is just a start. 
Young people must be involved in the development of mental health policies within the school – for example…

Is what’s suggested by the school an effective way of supporting the young people? 

Is there a review system embedded in what the school is offering? 

Is the school focusing on the development of all pupils in the area of mental health? 

Does the system look at all aspects of school life and how that might impact on the individual? 

For example – how does it fit around the bullying policy? 

How does the school deal with exam stress? 

How does the school deal with teacher stress? 

Are there flexible mechanisms in place to liaise with families? (Bearing in mind, for some, home life may be the root of a person’s issues) 

How will the school work with CAMH’s? 

Will the school have a counsellor? Can they afford one? 

Who will provide what training? 

Personally, I think they should bring in people with a lived experience of mental ill health, who’ve already been through the system. 

It’s essential that mental health education is integrated in such a way that teachers don’t think, ‘Oh my God, not another bloody thing’

On a STRUCTURAL level

All of the above must be considered within the structure of the society in which the school sits.

The MP’s in the debate acknowledged that regular OFSTED assessments cause teachers significant stress that they will invariably pass onto the pupils. They spoke about it as if this was a fait accompli.

If this system has such a negative effect on everyone, it must be reviewed/ changed

The socialist in me wonders why, when we claim to live in a meritocracy, why is it ok to allocate (on average) a third of the funding for each state school pupil that their fee paying counterparts receive? 

We must deal with poverty more effectively. Children and young people often feel the bite of exclusion because of the punitive austerity regimes imposed by our government. Including the benefit cap on having more than 2 children (which, quite unfairly, came into being long after people had already had their children); the bedroom tax; and the ubiquitous Universal Credit which has a 42 day delay before any money is awarded – often resulting in long term unmanageable debt – in addition, if parents have a long term disability or mental health problem, their income has been cut by £40 per week. 

On the subject of disability and mental ill health, we must, once again, invest in services to ensure both parents and their children have timely access to services. 

We’ve already established that the return of investment is around £32 for every £1 invested. It really is crazy not to put that money into the system. 

One of the MP’s in the debate suggested that money had been allocated to mental health systems within the NHS – it’s just taking its time. I’m not entirely sure if that’s the case…

At any rate, any money allocated to mental health services MUST BE RING FENCED, otherwise it’ll just evaporate into other services. 

Whatever happened to the £Billion that Jeremy Hunt promised earlier this year? 

Concerned we don’t have money for this? Stamp down on tax evasion and avoidance. 

Step 1 in this process is to stop the proposed cut of 8000 employees at HMRC – the very people tasked with collecting taxes. 

Yes, I appreciate I’ve banged on, and that this may be flawed in a number of ways, but it would be lovely to hear your thoughts.

Walk a Mile

Chris

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