‘Do we have a mental health epidemic among young people?’ asks select committee chair

21st February 2022

The House of Commons’ education committee held a session on mental health on Tuesday, as part of Children’s Mental Health Week. Giving evidence were Lord O’Donnell, Lord Layard, Catherine Roche (CEO at Place2Be), and Mouhssin Ismail (Principal at Newham Collegiate Sixth Form Centre).

Chair of the committee, Robert Halfon MP, set out the challenge facing children and young people. Before Covid, referrals to child mental health services rose to 538,564 in 2020, an increase of 35% from 2019 and 60% from 2018. The report of the Children’s Commissioner into mental health found that one in five children are not happy with their mental health. Robert Halfon asked if we are on the way to a mental health epidemic among young people.

Lord Layard said that mental health has always been a major problem that was not being treated properly. Lord O’Donnell agreed, saying that mental health had long been neglected, with historically poor data. He wanted more work to establish a clearer state of the nation, so we can reliably answer the question about a mental health epidemic. He added though that the reduction in early intervention spending in the past decade will contribute to increasing child mental health issues.

Speaking from a school perspective, Mouhssin Ismail said there had been an increase in demand for in-house counsellors and referrals to CAMHS. This is having an impact on attainment, losing days in school and leading to students being unable to fully commit to learning.

Mouhssin Ismail went on to discuss the strategies in place in his school, talking about the importance of mental resilience. He said that it was important to think about the day-to-day pressures students have, and not just about those acute mental health issues which require referrals to CAMHS, helping young people to have the necessary tools to deal with everyday challenges.

Catherine Roche agreed, saying that good mental health and wellbeing is something all children should have, with this embedded into the school system and access to specialist support. The challenge for schools, however, is whether or not the resources are there to make this work.

Lord Layard said that schools really do matter when it comes to making a positive difference to mental health and wellbeing. Lord O’Donnell added that it is important to remember that there isn’t a dichotomy between caring about wellbeing and caring about exam results. What is important was clear expectations, and greater weight given to personal development alongside academic achievement. Again though, there is a question of capacity and resources in the system to make this work.
Mental health is a key strand in the policy work Schools North East does. Before and throughout the pandemic we have emphasised the importance of recognising the increasing responsibilities schools have taken on, and the need for more joined up thinking between education, health, and social care. Our annual Healthy MindED Conference 2022 is due to take place on Thursday 19th May. If you are interested in speaking, please find more information at the following link.