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Mental health green paper: what’s in it for children and parents?

Image: from Department for Social Care and Health's YouTube video, 'Children and young people's mental health green paper overview'

The government’s green paper on children’s mental health contains some bold proposals. Parent Zone hears from people on the frontline of education about what this means for them

With a government commitment to spend an extra £300m over the next three years on improving mental health support for pupils, schools could expect more support, helping them to improve young people’s wellbeing.

The government’s green paper on children and young people’s mental health set out three main ideas for review:

  • a ‘mental health lead’ in every school and college;
  • funding for mental health support teams to work across schools, colleges and the NHS;
  • a pilot four-week waiting time scheme for access to specialist children’s services.

The paper also proposes that a member of staff in every UK school be trained in mental health awareness so that ‘children and young people showing early signs of distress are always able to access the right help, in the right setting, when they need it’.

Cassie Buchanan is the head of Charles Dickens Primary School in London, which has been pioneering some innovative measures around mental health. She talks to us about some of the measures carried out in school.

‘We have a three-tiered approach. Every child has weekly lessons in which they learn how to be mentally healthy; be that understanding or recognising emotions, resilience or how to cope with different situations that pupils may have in their complicated little lives.

The next tier up is a range of school interventions that children can take part in. There is a programme called Lego Therapy helping them learn about friendships, losing and sharing. We have a specialist teaching assistant who teaches children how to cope with parents separating, how to regulate how they are feeling and identify a place where they can feel happier. There are also social skills groups for young children or those finding learning difficult, helping them with social and emotional language by using model sentences and practising how to join and leave play with adult support.

ʻWe have a private educational psychologist in once a weekʼ

If a child has an acute need, then we have a specialist team offering the top tier of support. We have a private educational psychologist in once a week which is much more than what we receive through our local authority. She works with families and children helping them in a targeted and time limited way. We often support families going through family separations, adult mental illness and trauma. We have two full-time family support workers members of staff who work with looked-after and fostered children, but also young carers, young mothers or fathers and families who are not sure where to go for support. 

Teaching emotional literacy

The deputy head of Charles Dickens Primary School, Michael Eggleton, trained at Yale University where he became an accredited trainer of RULER, supported by Yale Center for Emotional Intelligence. Created by Marc Brackett, a lecturer in psychology, RULER is about using emotions to create a more compassionate society. The initiative teaches people of all ages how to develop their emotional intelligence.

Cassie Buchanan explains how Charles Dickens Primary School is implementing these initiatives. ‘There are four coloured quadrants and young people gradually build up emotional language, such as words associated with happiness and anger. The idea is to normalise the fact that children's emotions go up and down. If they are feeling a lot of anger and it makes them uncomfortable, we can help them shift their emotions to a different quadrant and to feel more positive. There’s also a mood meter app.

ʻThe NHS put some funding for schools to come up with new strategiesʼ

We were the first primary school in the UK to use RULER. We received funding to become trained and to disseminate the learning from the NHS. Our local NHS trust created a brilliant opportunity to bid for funding for innovative ideas to improve Positive Mental Attitude (PMA) in children and we successfully bid for this. We share our work with parents via our newsletters, workshops and home learning. Governors focus time on assessing our impact. Its importance is woven through the school.

 

We learned that what Yale do is brilliant. However, we also take the best things from other approaches such as mindfulness and therapeutic stories. We belong to Cambridge, School Teachers and Research Network (CamSTAR) to feed this work into a bigger picture of mental health strategies. Sharing what works with other schools is so important to us. We are lucky to be part of a powerful project of schools committed to children's mental health and together we are evaluating what works with the development of a wellbeing measure supported by Sir Anthony Seldon, the vice-chancellor of the University of Buckingham. There is so much excellent work happening in many schools already and we are keen to help schools share.’ 

 

A young person’s view: ‘stigma is a huge problem’

According to a Time to Change survey, 69% of participants said their fear of stigma prevented them from telling a friend about their mental health problem. 28% said negative reactions from others made them want to give up on life.

Jodie Goodacre, 22, lives with bipolar disorder. Jodie campaigns as a young champion with the Time to Change mental health campaign, delivering sessions in schools that draw from her own experiences. She offers her view on the proposals.

ʻIt's finally being recognised that something needs to be in place for schoolsʼ

‘I’m quite balanced on the green paper. I’m skeptical of new proposals, but there’s some form of hope as it’s finally being recognized that something needs to be in place in schools. Stigma is a huge problem in schools. I had firsthand experience myself, but I am seeing stats of people experiencing stigma from parents, teachers, friends and partners, which is deeply worrying. 

Sometimes the stigma can be worse than the difficulty itself. Not feeling able to talk openly and honestly to those around you is hard. If someone broke their leg you would tell them to go to hospital. People wouldn’t make mocking comments.

Today’s measures would have completely changed the path I was on at school. There is a long way to go, but I am already seeing a huge change in attitude. The first step to any early intervention is to bring issues out into the open.

ʻ18 months is too long to wait... mental health can deteriorate massivelyʼ

Bullying used to be in the playground, but now there are no safe spaces for a child because the bullying comes into the home through smartphones.

Social media wasn’t a thing when I was in primary school. It has become the norm, but it can become overwhelming. Instagram is one of the worst in terms of body image and anxiety because you scroll through fake, filtered images. I still struggle with it even though I know it doesn’t give the full picture. There needs to be more understanding that it’s OK to show aspects of yourself that aren't in the best light and you don’t have to broadcast everything, do what is best for you and for your health. 

It’s not about telling a child not to do something but telling them the impact it might have and ways to be kind to one another, using social media to spread positive messages.

In terms of the green paper I think they will trial a four-week waiting time, I don’t see that being possible, but they have acknowledged that services need to change because 18 months is too long to wait. A person’s mental health can deteriorate massively in that time. 

ʻHaving a mental health lead in each school will be a big job'

Acknowledging that you need help is massive and to find that there’s no service when you do seek help can be really disheartening. Having a mental health lead in each school will be a big job, but it needs to be a whole network in the school. It needs a trickledown effect, so that teachers can refer students. Students need to be aware of mental health, mental illness, and when it is recognised to be causing difficulty for an individual, they shouldn’t be stigmatized.’

What happens next?

Consultation on this green paper closes at noon on 2 March, after which a white paper will be issued, which will set out proposals for legislative changes.

Further information

What is a green paper?  This series of short videos presented by young people explains what a green paper is.

Parent Zone CEO Vicki Shotbolt comments on the government’s green paper on internet safety.

You can follow mental health campaigner and blogger, Jodie @JodieVolunteers