Dr. Wendy Sims-Schouten’s publication on The Conversation is a poignant portrayal of the situation surrounding mental health for children, young people, and teachers in education today. The Conversation allows everyone open access to journalistic articles written by academics with expertise in the field. It is a platform where researchers can share current developments, issues and concerns openly and honestly with the general public.
It is clear that, despite the government’s attempts to address the issue of mental health in childhood and education, little progress is being made with reports, such as those from The Children’s Society, suggesting that there have been increases in mental health issues, particularly for girls, for today’s youth culture.
On top of this, teachers – who already report vociferously about the stresses and strains of their workload and the impact this has on their own mental health, will be expected to undertake training and delivery of the proposed strategy to tackle the issue of spotting the signs and stopping the stigma surrounding mental health. So why are teachers being expected to undertake yet another pastoral aspect as a part of their already very challenging role? In this article Dr. Wendy Sims-Schouten also addresses the question of “What happened to professional mental health services?” Through looking at government pledges and actual spending in this category.
Increasing numbers of young people experience high levels of anxiety, stress and depression. This can have a massive impact on their health, relationships and future options. The Mental Health Foundation draws attention to the fact that “good mental health is more than the absence of a mental health problem.”
Key questions here are –
How many of us are surviving or thriving, and what is the difference between the two?
Why are some communities under strain and what can the government do to support them to thrive?
What steps can we take to look after our mental health, build resilience and cope with the demands of life?
To provide a greater understanding of this highly topical and constantly developing area, the MICE Hub hosted a special event to coincide with Mental Health Awareness Week (8th – 14th of May).
The event took place on Monday 8thMay from 10.30am to 3pm in the University’s St George’s Building, 141 High Street, Portsmouth. Keynote speakers were Alison Jeffery, Director of Children’s Services at Portsmouth City Council, who talked about ‘Mental health as everyone’s business: emotional well-being in education, safeguarding and city wide children’s services’ and Dr David Harper from the University of East London who looked at ‘Rethinking Approaches to Mental Health Stigma’.
In addition to this there were contributions from national charities, such as Family Links, Wessex Academic Health Science Network and academics and research staff from the University of Portsmouth and beyond.
This was a thought-provoking day, with talks ranging from mental health and wellbeing in early childhood, midwifery, through to mental health in schools and HE and wellbeing of care leavers and mental and social work. In her keynote Alison Jeffery focussed on the MH strategy in Portsmouth and what is being done to support children and young people (and what needs to be done). Melanie Goddard from the Roberts Centre (child focused charity in Portsmouth) talked about programmes and support for young care leavers and birth mothers, whilst Sarah Darton from the national charity Family Links focused on emotional health and resilience in children and families in her talk. The need to see the bigger picture and engage with family stories and narratives was echoed by Emma Maynard in her session on engaging family narratives.
Dr David Harper, director of clinical psychology programmes at UEL discussed approaches to mental health stigma, highlighting that there is a need to tackle the stereotyping of MH issues that appears to specifically exist amongst young people. Mental Health in HE was also discussed, with Denise Meyer, Head of Welbeing, UoP flagging up the support services that are available in the University, such as the WhatsUp app. Alison Griffiths, programme manager mental health at Wessex Academic Health Science Network flagged up that 20-24 year olds account for the largest number of mental health emergency departments attendances, 8% of which are University students; Clare Wilson from the University of Portsmouth discussed the need for mental health support groups and the research that she has done around in.
Taken as a whole, there was lots of evidence of good practice, but the need for more work on this front was also consistently highlighted.
Dr. Wendy Sims-Schouten’s research reveals that our perception of the Victorians may not necessarily be the reality. The images conjured by Charles Dickens and Wilkie Collins were not necessarily a true reflection of how children were treated.
Children were often taken in to care as a result of dysfunctional family situations and parents with mental health issues. The research shows a stronger focus on helping the child than expected, especially those with mental health issues.
The phrase ‘mental health’ was first used in the late 1800s and the main difference is the language used to describe individuals with mental health conditions which was also used to describe those with learning difficulties and ‘peculiarities’.
The seriousness of mental health issues, among other factors, played a huge part in the decision making process. Catering for children with mental health issues was, and still is, a problem. Can we learn from the Victorian’s and Edwardian’s more caring approach? By making sure we listen to children and give them a voice.