Spotting mental health issues in school children.
Photograph: Andy Rain/EPA
The news that Theresa May is focusing on mental health training for teachers (Report, 17 June) left me speechless. As I read on in the paper about the failure of NHS care for children with autism, the closure of Sure Start centers, and the government’s weak and dishonest response to tackling climate change, and remembered previous articles about schools turning to charities for money to feed and clothe hungry pupils, it became clear that the issue is not that teachers don’t spot mental health problems, but that there is minimal interest from this government in tackling the causes of, or providing treatment for, these debilitating conditions. As thousands of parents can attest, diagnosing the need is not the issue.
Aston Clinton, Buckinghamshire
Once again the government comes up with a new plan for teachers to do something they used to be able to do before the cuts. Creative subjects (art, drama, music, creative writing and film-making) have been cut from syllabuses, but teachers of these subjects know they are crucial spaces in which students explore and articulate things that interest, puzzle, frighten and inspire them. Most importantly, students do this with their friends and peers, supported and encouraged by a skilled and concerned adult.
Often the first evidence that a student may be more than just temporarily troubled by something is visible in what they produce in these safely “contained” spaces. Now that Gradgrind is firmly in charge of the curriculum and its over-dominant testing system, these crucial but hard-to-measure elements have been cut or killed off. Teachers don’t need something else added to their job description – just give them back what worked well before.
• Any additional support for children’s mental health is to be welcomed, although parents will reserve judgment until they see improvements. Our experiences of schools, and of child and adolescent mental health services (CAMHS), are troubling. Educational warning signs were missed or shuffled along for the next school to deal with. CAMHS treated depression with drugs, but no psychological therapy, and failed to undertake any wider evaluation of educational or psychological histories.
After 20 months of a downward spiral, we are having a second opinion within CAMHS, and only after much damage has been done and time wasted are they looking into the child’s history or using an ADHD survey.
It is therefore not news to us that the Children’s Society reports extensive denial of care for those deemed not ill enough. What we have learned is that our child’s condition/behaviour is seen purely as a parenting problem, with that view being shared with other professionals. Given that no one had undertaken a full review of his developmental history (or of his “normal” sibling), it is hard to see how it is possible to come to that conclusion other than as a means of justifying no treatment in the first place.
Whatever money the government throws at child mental health services is money spent too late, but it will be welcome. The NHS might be a glorious achievement in general, but our experiences of it at the collapsing horizon of a child’s wellbeing are dismal and distressing.
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• A few years ago Peterborough city council closed many of its Sure Start centres. At a public consultation meeting the Tory councillor responsible for children’s services refused to accept that the closures would result in greater demand on the NHS, in particular for mental health services. As you say in your report (17 June), this has proved to be the case in the study by the Institute for Fiscal Studies.
Early intervention and support offered by Sure Start is a cost-effective way of preventing even greater expenditure in the long run. It is typical of the Tories to cut services to allegedly save money but refuse to listen to rational arguments about their shortsighted approach when considering the level of funding required for good public services.
• As someone who has worked in schools for more than 40 years, my experience is that school staff tend to be good at knowing their pupils and picking up when an individual needs mental health support.
While I welcome training that further enhances the understanding of mental health issues within our schools, I also find myself wondering what other agenda there might be for this initiative. If the government’s idea is that we can somehow train already overstretched school staff to fill the gap created by the austerity-driven paucity of specialist mental health provision, then this initiative is delusional at best and callous at worst.
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