Teacher say children face mental health epidemic

Teenage mental health charity stem4 have released findings from a survey of teachers looking at children and young people’s mental health issues in schools.

Findings from an online survey of 300 teachers working in primary and secondary schools , and further education colleges in the UK show that:

  • 78% of teachers said that at least one of their pupils has experienced a mental health issue over the past year;
  • 14% said that at least one of their pupils has experienced suicidal thoughts and behaviours over the past year;
  • 66% reported a pupil has suffered anxiety, and
  • 45% have witnessed a student with depression
  • 30% engaged with a pupil who had an eating disorder
  • 28% supported a pupil with self-harm
  • 10% reported a pupil who had an addiction.

Yet the teachers told the survey that just under half (46%) of students are unable to access the mental health services they need to make a recovery, with only one in five (19%) saying all these students were getting the treatment they needed. One in five (22%) say pupils needing specialist treatment typically had to wait more than five months for an appointment, and more than a third (36%) had feared at some point that a pupil would come to harm while waiting for treatment.

Nearly one in ten (9%) described their school’s mental health provision as ‘non-existent’, with 30% saying it was inadequate or very inadequate. Four in ten (40%) of the state school teachers surveyed say the need for mental health services has increased over the past year. Over half (52%) of all respondents believed family difficulties were contributing to their students’ problems while other common causes were exam stress and the emotional impact of bullying, both cited by 41%.

For more information read their full news release.

Heartbreaking – suicide is now the biggest killer of teenage girls

Suicide has become the leading killer of teenage girls, worldwide. Take a moment to read this article to find out why:

Female suicide stats

Towards the end of last year, a shocking statistic appeared deep in the pages of a World Health Organisation report. It was this: suicide has become the leading killer of teenage girls, worldwide. More girls aged between 15 and 19 die from self-harm than from road accidents, diseases or complications of pregnancy.

For years, child-bearing was thought to cause the most deaths in this age group. But at some point in the last decade or so – statistics were last collected on this scale in 2000 – suicide took over. And, according to the WHO’s revised data for 2000, it had already just inched its way ahead of maternal mortality at the turn of the millennium.

“I’m not quite sure why we haven’t realised this before,” says Suzanne Petroni, a senior director at ICRW. “Maternal mortality has come down so much, which is fantastic,” she says.

That’s a major factor behind the fall in the overall death rate for 15-19 year old girls from 137.4 deaths per 100,000 girls in 2000 to 112.6 today. It’s an amazing achievement.

And it has allowed the spotlight to fall, finally, on what has actually been the biggest killer all along: suicide.

The report looks at six global regions. In Europe, it is the number one killer of teenage girls. In Africa, it’s not even in the top five, “because maternal deaths and HIV are so high,” says Petroni.

But in every region of the world, other than Africa, suicide is one of the top three causes of death for 15 to 19 year old girls. (For boys, the leading killer globally is road injury).

It’s particularly shocking given that suicide is notoriously underreported.

“We don’t really know the extent of the problem,” says Roseanne Pearce, a Senior Supervisor at Childline in the UK. “Because the coroner often won’t record it as suicide. Sometimes that’s at the family’s request, and sometimes it’s simply to protect the family’s feelings.”

In countries where stigma is particularly high, suicides are even less likely to be recorded than they are in the UK. And the poorest countries in the WHO’s report have very patchy data on births and deaths at all, let alone reliable detail on what caused those deaths.

 

Self-harm

Below is a talk I gave on the theme of self-harm to our 14-18 year olds for Self-Harm Awareness Week:

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When uncontrollable emotions hit you, how do you cope?  Does counting to ten prevent anger?  Does pouring out your heart to a friend ease inner turmoil?  For as many as one in ten young people, self-harm will provide a way of coping when emotions become too overpowering to deal with as they turn that emotional pain onto themselves physically.  Although the highest rates of self-harm are among young people, people of all ages and backgrounds are affected by this condition.

Family and friends might feel bewildered by this behaviour.  Most will expect the person who harms to be able to explain why they have done it – even though they might not know themselves.

What is self-harm?

Self harm is “acting to deliberately injure yourself physically in an attempt to cope with, express or reduce intense or overwhelming emotions.”  The exact form of which varies from “minor, occasional acts to more serious and regular harm that can require hospital treatment.”

Sufferers most commonly harm by cutting or burning their skin, hitting or punching themselves or taking substances that cause pain or discomfort.  Others, less commonly, deliberately break bones or pull out hairs – known as trichotillomania, and also linked to obsessive compulsive behaviour – or participate in other damaging behaviours such as alcohol abuse, smoking, unsafe sex and even eating disorders.  The choice of method, available instrument or routine of harm is often as individual as the sufferer, as well as whether harm is used as a form of punishment or to deal with whatever they are feeling at a particular moment.

Why do people hurt themselves?

The action of self-harming can be a way of regaining control when individuals are confronted with emotions or circumstances beyond their control.  It forms a way of reducing uncomfortable feelings of tension and distress.  If the sufferer feels guilty, harming might provide a method of self-punishment to relieve the guilt.

The addictiveness of the process can be a “quick fix for feeling bad”.  Some clinicians suggest the release of endorphins – “feel good” chemicals – at the time of any physical injury helps self-harm sufferers to relax.  Others theorise harming communicates how the person feels when they are unable to put into words what they are experiencing.

For some this might be acted out in response to their emotions, such as someone whose harm is linked to anger hitting something solid or smashing an item.  Harming can also become a method of self-nurture – an enforced time out from anxiety cycles, such as those experienced by obsessive compulsive disorder sufferers who become anxious in checking and rechecking lists or actions, or going over overwhelming thought or emotion patterns.

How does self-harm affect individuals?

Self-harm is a temporary – and dangerous – solution to dealing with uncontrollable emotions.  Harming using unclean objects poses obvious health risks but hte avoidance of dealing with difficult emotions by harming leaves the person continuing to struggle with those emotions unless they seek help or their circumstances alter.

Self-harm is usually a hidden behaviour, associated with feelings of guilt, shame and disgust of their actions on top of emotions already experienced.  It can therefore provide only a temporary reprieve for sufferers, while making things worse for them in the longer term.

How can we support someone who harms?

In Matthew 22:37 and 39, Jesus says the greatest commandments are to “love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind” and “love your neighbour as yourself”.  The Church’s first response to someone who has harmed or admitted to harming needs to be one of love.

For many young people, divulging the secret of their harm is a huge step forward.  The next step is for others to support them as they work through the underlying emotions they are dealing with at their own pace.  Although it might seem helpful to say “Stop hurting yourself.  Do it for me”, this is really unhelpful and can make the sufferer feel even more guilty and ashamed, reinforcing the cycle of negative emotions.

Above all, encourage them to seek professional support.

What is someone is using self-harm to seek attention?

There are a lot of other ways you can get attention other than hurting yourself.  So the first question to ask is “Who is to judge if this is attention-seeking behaviour?” and then, as you offer the same support as you would to anyone who self-harms, you can slowly start uncovering the reasons they are doing it.

That person has to learn – just as those who harm find better ways to cope with uncontrollable emotions – to develop better strategies for seeking the attention they feel they need.

Love is the key.

The path to recovery is not easy, and it can be frustrating for sufferers and their supporters, particularly when for every one step forward there might be two back.  We can respond to those who harm by providing a compassionate attitude and ensuring those who harm are safe, cared for and treated as the individuals they are, not labelling them by their condition.