With a rise in mental health problems in our children and young people and a lack of services to support them and their families, our child and adolescent mental health services (CAMHS) are creaking at the seams.
Indeed, the latest figures indicate that more than a third of children and young people are not being seen within the Scottish Government’s 18-week waiting time target from referral to treatment, a target that is in itself far too long.
One key measure to address this escalating mental health issue is a refocusing on prevention and early intervention. If we can prevent such problems arising in the first place it limits a requirement for a referral to highly costly specialist mental health services further down the line.
A key measure of this should be a much greater emphasis on emotional wellbeing within our early years and primary and senior school curriculum, preventing mental health problems arising and through this making our children and young people more resilient. It is however questionable, in my estimation, whether the current curriculum deals with this and prepares our children for the complex modern world that we live in.
No one can take away the need for maths, English or science in the curriculum and there are clear examples of where this is linked in a practical way with budgeting and financial inclusion. However, we need to connect our children practically to the daily problems they face.
There is little use for history if our children don’t know how to use their mind productively or be happy or understand how they learn best or to self-regulate their behaviours and emotions.
We have clearly got considerably better as a society at recognising the need for more creative learning and adapting to requirements for those with additional support needs. The introduction of skills academies and modern apprenticeships for more practical opportunities, for example, is great but what about happiness and emotional resilience?
Our curriculum requires to be more balanced in terms of wellbeing, building up the resilience of our children. We should be teaching our children and their parents about developing a growth mindset, a belief that the individual is in control of their own ability and can learn and improve this.
Our brain is an instrument and teaching our children about positive thought is essential, using self-improvement or holistic approaches like meditation, to ensure they understand themselves and how they learn or improve.
The Dalai Lama said: “When educating the minds of our youth, we must remember to educate their hearts”. Teaching our children to pass a test and memorise subjects is simply not enough. We want self-motivated, independent thinkers who are self- reliant, who grow into emotionally resilient productive citizens.
Happiness classes in primary school and developing an understanding of mental health and delivering a growth mindset in senior years is crucial and will reap dividends.
As an organisation we deliver happiness class training for teachers for free across Scotland as part of our charitable outcomes.
Some other interventions could be:
- The use of community learning development workers for disengaged children. These have experience in mental health, behaviour management and education delivery, adopting a flexible learning approach.
- Educating our new teacher students on the importance of relationships and mental health or Teaching through an ACE’s perspective at college or university.
- Giving teachers flexibility and creativity around non-standardised learning.
I don’t believe this is a utopia but five minutes of meditation in the morning or a half hour happiness class once a week is not unattainable.
Instead of providing counsellors in every school, which I commend Scottish Government for doing, through this approach and building resilience in our children and young people we could greatly reduce the need for them in the first place. This in turn would positively benefit the public purse longer term.
Currently LOVE learning bridges provides support to those with mental health issues through ‘hybrid workers’ but it would greatly benefit our communities and CAHMS if schools were able to build resilience internally and we could close our doors .
Research has shown that good wellbeing on leaving school has a much greater impact on life’s outcomes than exam success. In saying this I am not negating the need for our current curriculum, but school exam results would improve overall if our children’s wellbeing improves.
We need to therefore to teach our children and their families not only about the practical side of life, but the emotional side as well.
Lynn Bell, CEO of LOVE learning, which is a member of the Scottish Children’s Services Coalition. This article first appeared in The Scotsman on 2nd January 2020.