MHAW BLOG: Why the emphasis should be on AWARENESS in Mental Health Awareness week

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By founder of YOGADOO, Lucy Aston

Since YOGADOO was launched two years ago, I’ve noticed a definite increase in the conversation around children’s mental health, and rightly so. Growing up in rural West Somerset, I think I can remember a handful of conversations around mental health issues amongst my peers and my family during my childhood. At school, anxiety was all too often written off as nerves. Depression or stress written off as “having a bad day.”

 

Over the past decade there has been an increase in the level of knowledge and awareness and a certain reduction in the stigmatisation of mental health issues.  There is also an acknowledgement that we all HAVE a mental health, which can fluctuate from day to day, week to week, year to year in much the same way as our physical health can.

 

I think we are a long way off talking about mental health issues in exactly the same way as physical ailments, but it is certainly moving in the right direction.  Certainly, in a generation, some of the stigma surrounding Mental Health has been lifted enabling us to talk more openly about how we feel. I cannot imagine my parents and their friends standing at a bar, or talking over a coffee in a café about their mental health in the way that I do with my friends.

 

To kick off Mental Health Awareness week, we thought we would start by looking at the state of the Mental Health of our nation’s children. The statistics which we have pulled together whilst they are widely reported, are nevertheless alarming. Half of mental health problems are established by the time a child is 14 years old, and it’s thought 10% of children now have a diagnosable mental illness, many more are suffering from mental health challenges. And the wait for treatment and resources to help these young people are being stripped and cut all the time, with some young people waiting a decade for appropriate treatment.

 

New figures released today show that there has been a sharp rise in the number of children under 11 referred for mental health treatment by schools in the last four years.

 

So here we go with our snapshot of the state of the Mental Health of our nation’s children (pulled from a wide range of resources and sources)

 

DEFINITION

The World Health Organisation describes mental health as ‘a state of well-being in which the individual realises his or her own abilities, can cope with the normal stresses of life, can work productively and fruitfully, and is able to make a contribution to his or her community.’ 

 

HEADLINES REGARDING CHILDREN AND YOUNG PEOPLE

  • 20% of adolescents may experience a mental health problem in any given year.
  • 50% of mental health problems are established by age 14 and 75% by age 24.
  • 10% of children and young people (aged 5-16 years) have a clinically diagnosable mental problem
  •  70% of children and adolescents who experience mental health problems have not had appropriate interventions at a sufficiently early age.

SCHOOLS

Three in four mental illnesses start in childhood. 75% of mental illnesses start before a child reaches their 18th birthday, while 50% of mental health problems in adult life (excluding dementia) take root before the age of 15.

 

10% of school children have a diagnosable mental illness. So, in an average class of 30 young people, three will have a mental health problem. Figures show 10% of children aged 5-16 have been diagnosed with a mental health problem.

 

The number of referrals by schools in England seeking mental health treatment for pupils has risen by more than a third in the last three years, according to recent figures obtained by the NSPCC. More than half (55%) of referrals over the four-year period came from primary schools.

 

In almost a third of all referrals, the child in question was denied specialist CAMHS (Child and Adult Mental Health Services) treatment. While, in some cases it might not have been necessary, the NSPCC believes under-resourcing is also a factor.

 

Alana Ryan, the NSPCC policy officer, said: “It is worrying there are so many children being deemed as needing some kind of mental health support and whether or not that is mental health support that meets the clinical support threshold, it’s still a need.” She said even where referrals were accepted, waiting times were often long.

 

The NSPCC’s Childline service has reported a 26% increase in the number of counselling sessions with children about mental health issues over the past four years, with some saying they only received specialist support when they reach crisis point.

 

The government is due to invest an additional £300m to provide quicker support to children. “We know we need to do more which is why we have extended our schools and NHS link pilot to deliver training in 20 more areas of the country this year,” he said. “This will improve links between up to 1,200 schools and their local specialist mental health service.”

 

TREATMENT

75% of young people with a mental health problem are not receiving treatment There’s been a rise in the time children are having to wait to receive treatment for complex mental health conditions, and children with depression and anxiety are often not being identified or given help.

 

The average wait for effective treatment is 10 years. It can take a decade for many young people to receive help after showing first symptoms. Opportunities to help are often missed until they reach “crisis”, causing children to self-harm, become suicidal, be violent and aggressive or drop out of school.

 

STIGMA

More than half of young people link mental illness with alienation and isolation 56% believe that anyone their age diagnosed with a mental illness would be treated differently, and 55% believe they would lose friends.51% of young people believe that anyone their age diagnosed with a mental illness would be embarrassed.

 

The findings from a YouGov/MQ survey also show a high level of mental health problems in students, as more than a quarter (27%) report having a mental health problem of one type or another. Female students are more likely to say they have mental health problems than males (34% v 19%).

 

RESEARCH

Just 6% of UK health research spending goes on mental health. This is despite mental health disorders such as anxiety, depression, phobias and post-traumatic stress disorder affecting one in four of the population.

 

For every person affected by mental illness, £8 is spent on research – 22 times less than cancer and 14 times less than dementia

 

UK funding for mental illness research equates to £8 per person, according to research from mental health research charity MQ, compared with £178 per person for cancer and £110 for dementia.

 

Less than 30% of mental health research is focused on young people. Only £26m a year is earmarked for children and young people’s studies, despite 75% of mental illness starting before the age of 18. The lack of investment in children’s mental health means that very little is known about the cause of mental illness, and which treatments are most effective.

 

Although these statistics might seem alarming, it is important to remember that levels of awareness and diagnosis has increased in recent years which has impacted on the figures. What’s also crucial to discuss is that an awareness of our own, and our children’s mental health does not always mean we have a medical diagnosis or “condition”. Simply understanding more about our own bodies and our mind can lead to a better level of self-care and quality of life.

 

The theme of this year’s Mental Health Awareness week is “Stress” and many of our children are sitting exams over the coming weeks and months, known to be a particularly stressful time. But when I meet with the hundreds of children YOGADOO works with each month, although they mention “exams” and “School work” as a cause of stress, the main reasons they are anxious or worried is linked to friendship groups, social media or family pressures.

 

Over the next seven days we will be posting advice and comment on the Mental Health conversation, particularly concerning young people. We will delve deeper into what can be done, and how yoga and meditation can help us increase our resilience in a modern world.

 

If you, or someone you know needs to talk to somebody about mental health issues, the Samaritans can be contacted on 116 123 (six digits).