With the new school year starting, new routines, schedules, challenges, hopes and expectations all come with it. Working as a counsellor in private practice and also with young people in a school setting, I see not only the pressures on young people of adjusting to these changes within school, but also their stress of managing emotional difficulties at home alongside their academic life.
Although there are a number of schools across the UK that provide a counselling service for their students, often with the assistance of a charitable organisation such as Place2be or the YMCA, there are unfortunately far too many schools that still do not have this provision. There is a wealth of evidence that points to there being a need for mental health support in schools, as can be seen by the following statistics:
- 1 in 10 children and young people (aged 5-16) suffer from a mental health disorder (i.e. around 3 children in every class) and many continue to have these problems into adulthood;
- Between 1 in every 12 to 15 children and young people deliberately self-harm;
- Nearly 80,000 children and young people suffer from severe depression. Among teenagers, rates of depression and anxiety have increased by 70% in the past 25 years;
(Sources: Green, H; McGinnit, A; Meltzer, H; et al. (2005) Mental Health of Children and Young People in Great Britain 2004; Mental Health Foundation (2006) Truth Hurts)
There are times when it can be very confusing for a child to understand what is happening to them and express what they are feeling. A school counselling service can play a vital role in providing young people with support to help them understand their emotions and develop ways of managing their difficulties at school and at home. There is no doubt that if a child receives support for mental health distress at an early age, then they are less likely to suffer from serious mental health problems as they develop into adulthood. In addition, from my own experience in working with young people, I can see clear indications of how promoting positive mental health can help improve attendance rates at school and reduce the level of student exclusion.
In the absence of a school counselling service, the next route for mental health support for a child or young person would be via the family General Practitioner, who can complete a referral to a specialist service such as the Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services (CAMHS). There are also several agencies which are committed to providing advice and support for the emotional well-being and mental health of children and young people, and some helpful links are at the bottom of this page.
One particular innovative organisation, Relax Kids, produces products and runs workshops for children to help them cope with stress. The classes teach mindfulness and relaxation strategies for calming down and building their self-esteem. Relax Kids is being used in some schools and private classes are run in various areas of the UK.
If you know of any child or young person who may benefit from emotional support for mental health difficulties, I would suggest a first step would be to see if any counselling provision is available within their school. If not, contact via the GP or a referral to a private counsellor can help take things forward.
Sharon Convisser is a counsellor registered with the British Association for Counselling & Psychotherapy. Telephone 07936 556314 to arrange a free initial consultation or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org