EPI report urges action on young people’s mental health

The Education Policy Institute (EPI) have presented their findings from a new analysis of the mental health of secondary aged pupils. The report, Young people’s mental and emotional health: Trajectories and drivers in childhood and adolescence analysed data on the mental health of approximately 5000 young people born around the year 2000 and living in England. This data was collected through the Millennium Cohort Study. At the ages of 11, 14 and 17 participants were asked about their wellbeing, self-esteem and other questions relating to their mental health. This analysis was supplemented by virtual focus groups conducted with young people aged 14 to 16. The groups had a mix of genders, backgrounds and experiences related to mental health.

Among the key findings from this research was that the wellbeing and self-esteem of all young people drops as they move into secondary school and continues to fall as they grow older, but girls see a far greater decline than boys. Girls see a significant drop in their wellbeing at age 14 and once again at age 17. Their self-esteem also drops sharply at age 14, before stabilising at age 17. Between the ages of 11 and 14, the proportion of girls that feel unhappy about their appearance almost doubles from around 15 per cent to around 29 per cent. In the focus groups, young people highlighted the transition to secondary school as being particularly hard on their self-esteem due to increased concerns about being judged and not ‘fitting-in’.

The researchers also identified factors associated with poorer mental health, for example family income. Those from low-income families are more likely to have lower levels of wellbeing and self-esteem, and more depressive symptoms. They also found that the coronavirus pandemic has exacerbated existing social inequalities, putting additional pressure on young people’s mental health. Conversely frequent physical exercise was associated with better mental health outcomes, especially for boys at age 14. However, the pandemic will have limited access to sports and other physical activities, potentially adversely affecting young people’s wellbeing.

Among the recommendations that the EPI make to tackle mental health are the urgent introduction of a £650 million post-pandemic funding package specifically for supporting children and young people’s wellbeing. Although the government has already introduced a £500m fund focused on children’s mental health services, the report’s authors point out that this equates to just £250 per young person with a ‘diagnosable disorder’, and is unlikely to make a significant difference. The EPI say that the additional £650 million that they propose would allow schools to hire additional staff to deliver mental health support to pupils and teaching staff, run interventions to address socio-emotional skills gaps, improve links with local CAMHS, and deliver training to teachers. The EPI also suggest that, in order to build the capacity of school leaders to support children with mental and emotional health needs, teachers should be encouraged to spend time in alternative provision settings as part of ongoing CPD or prior to entering a leadership role. They also call on the government to publish a plan for the rollout of a four week waiting time for specialist mental healthcare support across the country, including clear details on funding and staffing requirements. The report notes that currently waiting times for services are too long, and the thresholds to access support are too high. More broadly the authors call for a cross-government and cross-sector strategy to reduce family poverty, noting that given ‘the high and rising number of families in in-work poverty, this action must go beyond getting people into work’.

Full report: https://tinyurl.com/yy8533gx

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