Comment on Public Health England investment in mental health training for schools

Posted by ap507 at Jun 28, 2017 09:35 AM |
Dr Khalid Karim and Dr Michelle O’Reilly discuss child mental health in contemporary society and the recent announcement that Public Health England will give £200k to help secondary schools tackle these issues

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Child mental health has been increasingly recognized as an issue in contemporary society. With the publication of  ‘Future in Mind’, alongside other important policy documents, child mental health has become a central feature of  planning for meeting the needs of children and young people across the different agencies.

Unfortunately, child mental health has frequently suffered from chronic underfunding and there has been an increasing pressure on existing resources with referral rates to specialist services steadily climbing year-on-year. It is unclear why there is such a growing problem in this area, with various suggestions being offered for this state of affairs. Although the growing prevalence of conditions such as autism, and the contribution to poor mental health by cyberbullying are often reported, which have received a lot of media attention, the causes of child mental health difficulties remain complex. Particularly, the profound effects of poverty and parental mental health as important factors which affect children should not be underestimated. As a response to this issue there has been investment in services by central government but distribution of the funding has been patchy nationally. Central to many of the plans for tackling child mental health is the emphasis on prevention rather than treatment, and while this is a laudable aim, the evidence-base around the success of existing prevention interventions remains limited.

The announcement that Public Health England will give £200K funding to help secondary schools tackle mental health in children and young people is a commendable measure. As children and young people spend so much of their time at school, and schools do provide considerable support for them in an environment in which they feel is familiar, this is an obvious place for their wellbeing to be addressed. Schools are well-positioned to identify mental health issues during the early stages of ill health and this can be essential in identifying ways to signpost to appropriate sources of help and support.

However, understanding mental health is not straightforward and although ‘Mental Health First Aid’ has a good track record of training staff, we would view this intervention as just the beginning of an important process, as to truly get mental health champions in schools, the training would need to be much more comprehensive, but this of course would be more financially demanding. For the resources being committed, it is possible that the impact achieved may be less than may be hoped for. One of the only evidence-based interventions that is shown to improve mental health in children and young people is the ‘Whole School Approach’, as it tackles the issue in a multidimensional way and at a range of different levels, including staff and children. Understandably, this more complex way of approaching child mental health requires considerable more resources in both time and finances if it is to be achieved in all secondary schools across the UK.

The commitment being made by Public Health England should be seen as a positive start to addressing the complex and large-scale problem, not as the solution, but as part of an ongoing process and the beginning of continued funding.

Article by: Dr Khalid Karim; Consultant Child and Adolescent Psychiatrist (Leicestershire Partnership NHS Trust) and Senior Teaching Fellow (University of Leicester) & Dr Michelle O’Reilly; Associate Professor (University of Leicester) and Research Consultant (Leicestershire Partnership NHS Trust)

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