Every Child’s Story Deserves an Open Ear: Government Reforms Announced for Child and Adolescent Mental Health.
Text: Nicole Schnackenberg | Illustration: Ingrid Sanchez (@creativeingrid)
“Listen with curiosity. Speak with honesty. Act with integrity. The greatest problem with communication is we don’t listen to understand. We listen to reply. When we listen with curiosity, we don’t listen with the intent to reply. We listen for what’s behind the words.”
Roy T. Bennett, The Light in the Heart
One in ten children in the United Kingdom has a diagnosable mental health condition according to a recent survey by leading charity, Young Minds. Many more struggle with their emotional and psychological wellbeing yet do not meet the full criteria for clinical diagnosis. The issue is a growing one and something leaders on both a National and an International level are becoming increasingly concerned about and, thankfully, engaged in. This engagement has not come a moment too soon.
Earlier this year, Prime Minister Theresa May made a speech about the state of children’s mental health in the UK and how the Government plans to address this massive issue going forwards. She announced the first steps in the Government plans to transform the way in which mental health conditions are dealt with at every stage of a person’s life, not only in hospitals but also in classrooms, at work and in the wider community.
The Prime Minister described how this begins with ensuring that children and teenagers get the help and support they so desperately need and so tremendously deserve. A significant proportion of mental health struggles begin in childhood and adolescence; recognising and addressing these difficulties in the early stages has been shown to greatly improve the long-term trajectory of people’s lives and the lives, inevitably, of those around them.
The Government plans to pilot new approaches including offering mental health first aid training for teachers and support staff to help them identify and assist children experiencing mental health issues. They also plan to trial new approaches to ensure that schools and other educational establishments work closely together with local NHS services to provide a more joined-up service for children, young people and their families. These changes will accompany a major thematic review, led by the Care Quality Commission with input from OFSTED, looking at services for children and adolescents across the country to determine what is working and what is not. In addition, a Green Paper on children and young people’s mental health will be brought forward later this year with a view to transforming services in education and for families.
“The Prime Minister has stated that by 2021, no child will be sent away from their local area to be treated for a general mental health condition.”
There are multiple changes abreast, therefore, and an increasing understanding that the mental and emotional wellbeing of our children and young people needs addressing urgently and in a broad and holistic way. The struggle many families encounter when attempting to access help and support for their child when faced with issues of a mental health nature is heart-breaking: many families have to fight for access to mental health services and find themselves, at times, being sent halfway across the country to access appropriate support and treatment. The Prime Minister has stated that by 2021, no child will be sent away from their local area to be treated for a general mental health condition, thus taking an important step towards parity between the treatment of physical and mental health.
Treatment, of course, is only part of the answer. The need for prevention programs has also been highlighted, with resilience-building being very much the order of the day. To this end, the Secretary of State for Health, Jeremy Hunt, has also announced new suicide prevention measures which include initiatives to better support young people at the risk of self-harm. The Government will be investing in new digital tools for mental health alongside the suicide prevention strategy.
As with all aspects of health and wellbeing, prevention and early intervention are better than cure. Each of us has an important part to play in the unfolding of these changes related to child and adolescent mental health; there would appear to be an invitation to each and every one of us to demonstrate a willingness to listen to, and truly hear, the voices of our young people. As Yogi Bhajan implored us in one of his sutras for the Aquarian Age, we must understand with compassion or we will misunderstand the times. Now more than ever, our young people need our compassion, our openness, our willingness to engage with their experience, however painful, and our readiness to support them and to be truly with them in their suffering without judgement, without fear.
Here at the Special Yoga Foundation we are very passionate about child and adolescent mental health. To come along to one of our specialist trainings, please click here. Namaste.