The facts are that a quarter of people, on average, will experience a mental health problem and 75% of adult mental health problems (not including dementia) start before the age of 18. If the average adult has around 100 ‘real’ friends, then 25 of them are likely to have a mental health problem and of those 16 or 17 are likely to have had such a problem since their school days. This is no trivial matter; mental health problems have serious long term effects on life chances and are a leading cause of suicide. Physical diseases that profoundly influence life chances and are a major cause of premature death (for example multiple sclerosis or malaria) are scarcely considered trivial issues.
Mental health problems usually begin early, but we have tended to place the emphasis on dealing with adult mental health issues after they have already had a substantial impact on an individual’s life trajectory. The coalition government is absolutely right to begin to place the emphasis on tackling the problem at source; when, or even before, the problems start. Child mental health services have, in the past, been seen as a sideshow to adult mental health services. This would be like seeing vaccines as a luxury extra whilst we prioritise funding for hospitals struggling with patients dying of tuberculosis, polio and smallpox – all easily preventable by early vaccination. Does it not seem a little like the priorities are the wrong way around?
The government is beginning to see that schools are the ideal place to begin dealing with mental health issues. Mental health in young people and children is a fundamental part of the solution and not just a sideshow. As a result, ministers are talking about making mental health mandatory in schools and improving the accessibility of professional mental health services. The Secretary of State for Education, Nicky Morgan MP, has acknowledged that schools and their teachers are not qualified to deal with this issue alone.
Nichols Education is a non-profit social enterprise dedicated to doing exactly that. We want to make professional and affordable mental health, wellbeing and resilience training available to young people in schools, where it can be targeted to those most in need. In doing this we will help to prevent issues of mental health in young people and children and intervene early where they exist. Let us hope that whoever is in power from May 2015 continues to see this as an important issue.