Mind Cymru calls on Welsh Government to make mental health and wellbeing a statutory part of the national curriculum for all learners, as survey finds that one in seven young people have poor mental health

Tuesday, 02 July 2019 Mind

Data comes from a survey of over 3,000 young people aged between 11 and 19 carried out by the mental health charity Mind Cymru

One in seven young people describe their mental health as either poor or very poor, according to major new research by Mind Cymru that shows the sheer scale of the pressures faced by young people.

The charity is calling on Welsh Government to make mental health and wellbeing a statutory part of the national curriculum for all learners.

When it came to accessing support within school, there were problems with knowing where to go, and then getting the right kind of help. Mind’s survey also found:

  • Four out of five young people (80 per cent) agree or strongly agree that their school thinks it’s important to have good mental health and wellbeing for everyone in the school community yet, over half of young people (56 per cent) say they don’t learn about health and wellbeing in school;
  • Almost half (48 per cent) of all young people said they wouldn’t know where to go to access support within school and more than half (56 per cent) said they wouldn’t feel confident approaching teachers or other school staff if they needed help;
  • Around 1 in 5 young people (22 per cent) had accessed support for their mental health within school. Of these, almost half (44 per cent) said they didn’t find the support helpful and 1 in 3 (34 per cent) said they weren’t involved in decisions made about that support.

In terms of receiving help outside the school gates, only than one in three pupils (34 per cent) who had experienced a mental health problem had used mental health services. This means a huge gap in the numbers of young people needing help and those actually accessing support from the NHS.

Simon Jones, Head of Policy & Influencing at Mind Cymru, said:

“We spoke to thousands of young people to try to better understand the scale of poor mental health across secondary schools in Wales. There were some really positive findings, with most pupils saying that, on the whole, they thought their schools believed good mental health was important and promoted wellbeing. But we also heard from many young people experiencing problems with their mental health. Despite the high levels of poor mental health among young people, many are not accessing support and those that are aren’t always getting what they need.

“Young people want help for their mental health but their schools aren’t currently fulfilling their needs. It’s not schools at fault – we know they are under increasing pressure to provide wellbeing support for pupils at a time of rising demand and gaps in NHS mental health services. We know that many are doing the best job they can with limited resources and staff need the right expertise and support from other parts of the system.

“Mental health and wellbeing cuts across every aspect of learning and it deserves to be strengthened within Welsh Government’s current plans.

“We believe that including mental health and wellbeing as a statutory part of the new curriculum will help young people better understand their mental health and how to access support. It will also empower teachers to help their pupils access the support they so desperately need.

“It’s time for a fresh approach to supporting young people and equipping them to look after their mental health. With so many young people affected, and knowing that most mental health problems start in childhood, this is rapidly becoming one of the major challenges our society faces. We need to listen to what young people are telling us and be guided by them when designing services and support.”

Ysgol Gyfun Gymraeg Bro Edern pupil Grace Conolly, 16, from Rumney, added:

“Mental health support in school is definitely important and the options you can choose from here are immense. Our teachers are available, and also you can speak to your friends. We also have the Hafan which has qualified support staff to help pupils and support them back into the classroom. It is a place you can go if you aren't feeling 100%, or if you don't want to speak to a teacher.

Having these options is really helpful if you are in a hard situation.”

A separate survey by Mind of more than 280 school staff revealed that almost three in four (71 per cent) felt confident that pupils who needed it were being adequately supported. However, around one in two (52 per cent) feel that they do not have enough information to support pupils with poor mental health. Outside of school, staff were aware of other support but less than half (26 per cent) were confident that they would be able to help pupils to access it.

Alan Williams, Deputy Head at Ysgol Gyfun Gymraeg Bro Edern, said:

“We live in a society where young people are under increasing pressure to conform and reach certain standards and this pressure comes from a number of directions. Here at Ysgol Gyfun Gymraeg Bro Edern we firmly believe that education plays a vitally important part in developing the resilience of young people in order to help them maintain their mental health.

“We have been piloting the new Health and Wellbeing curriculum for the past two years and have seen a number of pupils benefit from this. By providing well planned lessons, working in partnership with a number of partners and by ensuring that pupil voice is strong we firmly believe that we are delivering a curriculum that is giving our pupils the support that they need. By continuing to focus on the five what matters statements and the four core purposes we are determined to continue to develop a curriculum that works side by side with the targeted support that we provide.”

Lynne Neagle AM, Chair, National Assembly for Wales Children and Young People Committee:

“I welcome the work Mind and others are doing in this vital area to support the mental health and well-being of our children and young people. Their findings echo those of our committee’s 2018 Mind over Matter report about the importance of adopting a whole-school approach to emotional and mental health and the once-in-a-generation opportunity curriculum reform provides to embed well-being into our children’s education. The figure of one in seven young people having poor mental health gives further impetus to our call for stakeholders and government to work together to deliver our vision for a whole-system approach to emotional and mental health. This needs to happen both within and beyond the school gates. As a Committee we are committed to following up on our recommendations and we will release the findings of our latest scrutiny work shortly.”

The surveys were carried out as part of a pilot project in 17 secondary schools in England and Wales. Funded by The BRIT Trust and WH Smith, Mind has been working with secondary schools since September to pilot a new approach to improving the mental health of the whole school community, including pupils, all school staff and parents.

Mental health information for young people is available for free from the Mind website at mind.org.uk. Mind Cymru is inviting young people from Wales to share their views and help better understand the barriers they face to accessing support and what some potential solutions might be. Anyone interested in taking part should visit mind.org.uk/cypsurvey

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