Lockdown part 3….Week 12

This week has seen a lot of anticipation for tomorrow which marks when we can meet people outside including in people’s gardens and the stay-at-home rule is ending (although the government are still urging people to stay local which is confusing) and outdoor sport facilities are reopening. I’ve noticed that a lot of tourist attractions with gardens and outdoor spaces are also reopening from tomorrow. I must admit that it will be lovely to be able to drive further than 5 miles and to go to the beach or to outdoor attractions.

This week marked the one-year anniversary of the first national lockdown, and it was funny how the weather really reminded me of how the first lockdown felt. It has been the first time this year when I have been able to leave the door open to the garden and we have spent a lot of time in the garden where upon my girls have been playing with the sand, singing, dancing, chalking, gardening etc. It makes such a change…seeing the blue sky, the sun shining, spring flowers starting to bloom and hearing the birds tweeting is definitely good for the soul!

It was the last session of my counselling course before we broke up for Easter and I found the session very interesting and have reflected a lot on the topics covered. We have been learning about and discussing mental health. So much was brought up by everybody and it really highlighted how many people are struggling with their mental wellbeing. Someone talked about their experience of CAMHS and how the children using their services are just being filtered through in a very robotic way which is making the statistics look good in terms of how many children are ‘accessing mental health support’ but in fact the majority of these children are not finding the support offered of any use. They come away saying that they have been given a worksheet to do but they don’t really understand it and the adults working with them within their school see how disheartened they are.

It made me wonder if some children are struggling or have certain barriers when it comes to talking about their mental health because they are seeing the ‘support’ available and unfortunately are not seeing any benefits for those who are being referred to CAMHS. Therefore, come children may already have the attitude of ‘what’s the point?’ or feel that they are not really being heard. I find this frustrating and makes me want to do something drastic to shake up the system within the UK. However, as usual one of the main hurdles is money and budgets – if me or anyone else was to offer a service to schools they are likely to say that they don’t have the budget available or that they can refer children to CAMHS therefore they wouldn’t be interested.

I feel strongly that mental wellbeing needs to become compulsory within all schools and having a ‘mental health week’ simply is not good enough. I appreciate how much pressure schools are being put under, however, ½ of all mental health problems manifest by the age of 14, 48.5% of 5–19-year-olds with a mental health disorder have more contact with teachers than any other professional service and 1 in 8 children have a diagnosable mental health disorder (these figures don’t take into account the impact of Covid-19). Children’s mental health problems can affect their attainment and behaviour which I picture as a car needing fuel to function – we harp on about needing food in order to function but actually there is so much more we need than just food. We all know that we need to sleep, exercise, keep hydrated etc but how much emphasis is put on the need for self-care or mental wellbeing, particularly with children and young people?

I believe that if children are given tools to support their mental wellbeing from a young age that this will have a massive positive impact on their life, now and in the future and that these tools could be used throughout their life. I believe by teaching children about mental wellbeing properly, (meaning not just a one-off session) that they will be in a better position to tackle whatever life throws at them. I feel that this could prevent mental health problems or at least the severity of how children are impacted by possible mental health problems rather than trying to treat or ‘cure’ them once they are diagnosed. The other problem with treating mental health problems is that most often particularly through the NHS and CAMHS, the waiting lists are long, and support can be very limited, therefore in some cases people may be worse before they access support or may not get the support they need.

Another reason I feel passionate about children being taught about mental wellbeing is that most people (no matter what age) that have committed suicide have not shown any signs that they were suicidal and quite often these people aren’t diagnosed with mental health problems. Therefore, if GP’s or schools are only trying to tackle the mental health of those who are ‘flagged up’ then children will devastating continue to slip through the net. Those who appear to be fine or do not have a diagnosis will continue to be offered very little or no support for their mental health which is feel is so wrong. As adults, each, and every one of us has been impacted by Covid-19 and a lot of people’s mental health has suffered, therefore who’s to say that children also haven’t been impacted?

I loved reading an article in The Guardian about a primary school that put catch-up on hold and instead spent a week focusing on children’s wellbeing. The headteacher was fully aware of the importance of this and felt that unless children are in the right place to learn mentally, that things just do not go in and I couldn’t agree more.