Press release: £1.5 million to help young people spot signs of mental illness

A £1.5 million fund driven by young people to help them develop support networks and talk about mental health, with online advice and workshops to help set them up, has been announced today (17 February 2016) by Education Secretary Nicky Morgan.

Within this, a digital innovation fund will be used to provide new and engaging online resources for parents and young people such as mobile phone apps.

We know that young people are often the first to spot when something is wrong with their friends and often confide in each other first – whether that’s a friend who is suffering from an eating disorder or someone not coping with exam stress at school. That’s why we must train them in how to spot the signs so they can then get the help they need.

A new advisory group will gather evidence from young people about their experiences and work with schools that are running successful peer to peer support networks, so this approach can be extended to thousands of schools across the country.

The group will be supported by experts from charities, including Young Minds; headteachers, and young people themselves.

Young people want to be involved and to share their views, and often turn to social media to do this. So today, Education Secretary Nicky Morgan is urging young people to get involved and tell the government what help they would need to set up peer support networks.

The call for evidence has been launched on social media platforms such as Twitter and sites such as Sugarscape to make it easier for young people to get involved.

Education Secretary Nicky Morgan said:

We know that if mental health issues aren’t tackled in children, it can blight their lives as adults. That’s why I think all schools should be having an open and frank conversation about mental health so that we continue to tackle the stigma that still surrounds it and ensure every child gets the support they need.

The truth is that the people who best understand the pressures that young people face are their classmates and friends – they’re the ones that spot the telltale signs that their friends are experiencing problems, and the people to whom children are most likely to turn for support. That’s why today’s announcements are about giving young people the training they need to spot the signs of mental health issues and get the support they need. To do that we will be working with schools, mental health experts, charities – and most importantly young people themselves.

The information gathered through the call for evidence, launched today, will be used by the advisory group to develop peer support pilot schemes – setting up projects learning from those that are already doing it well – to inspire other young people.

The group will also be looking at key issues that affect specific groups of young people, such as helping vulnerable groups, including children in care, as well as helping parents understand how to talk about mental health with their children and working with schools.

Today’s announcement builds on the package of support announced by the Prime Minister this week, which included £1 billion to put mental health and physical health on an equal footing by 2020 providing mental health care to 70,000 more children and young people.

It is part of a wider package of work being done by the Department for Education to improve children’s mental health, including a £3 million joint pilot scheme with NHS England for schools and local mental health services to provide more joined up support; counselling guidance, and the appointment of Sam Gyimah as the first ever DfE Minister with responsibility for mental health.

Peer support networks can mean anything from informal buddying schemes to one-on-one and group sessions with trained support, and can happen face-to-face or online.

They can help young people show solidarity with their classmates and friends; tackle the isolation and insecurity that often accompany mental illness; and help take the stigma out of mental health by improving young people’s understanding.

There are already great examples of this kind of support happening. In Sandon School in Essex pupils volunteer as mentors and wear a badge so they can be easily identified by other pupils who might need someone to talk to about issues they are facing.

At any one time, 1 in 10 children are suffering from a mental illness. More than half of all adults who face mental health problems later on in life were diagnosed with these issues as a child – demonstrating why it is so important that they are able to access support at school.

For example eating disorders, including anorexia, kill more young people than any other mental illness. That is why the government has introduced a new eating disorder waiting time standard – aiming for 95% of patients being seen within 4 weeks, or 1 week for urgent cases, by 2020. We want to complement this by also providing support in schools, through early intervention and peer support.

Peer support can also help build character and resilience, ensuring no child is left behind, whatever their background or start in life.

Earlier this week, the Mental Health Taskforce identified clear links between work and good mental health. Young people need good mental health, character and resilience to be able to succeed later in life.

Education and Childcare Minister Sam Gyimah said:

We are at a turning point in how we tackle children’s mental health issues and we are determined to put children and young people at the heart of this process.

That’s why today, I am excited to announce this funding to help encourage young people to champion each other’s mental wellbeing, and work together to promote good mental health.

I have met some impressive young people who have shown that peer support can work really well, and I want to see more of this high-quality support benefiting young people up and down the country.

Helen Newman, Assistant Head Teacher at Sandon School and member of the advisory group, said:

Peer support is a very important part of our school. The work that peer mentors and their mentees do together builds resilience and self-esteem on both sides. Young people that would otherwise find it difficult to engage with support feel reassured knowing that they have someone in school to turn to who is close to them in age, who may have had similar experiences to them and who won’t judge them. Mentors, some of whom have been mentees themselves in the past, embrace the responsibility for supporting others and the high esteem in which they are held by students and staff helps them develop their own confidence.

The Department for Education has also today updated its counselling guidance, which provides practical, evidence-based advice, informed by experts on how to make sure school counselling works for children and young people. This will help all schools make counselling available to their pupils.

Notes to editors

See the call for evidence.

The Department for Education has already invested £3 million in 22 mental health pilots to provide a single point of contact between schools and their local NHS health services. The pilot is working with teachers, parents and pupils to better understand mental health issues, helping them access the right support and ensuring that the any referrals are timely and appropriate.

Sam Gyimah is the first minister in DfE to have specific responsibility for mental health in his portfolio and he is working closely with Alistair Burt, the minister responsible for mental health in the Department of Health.

Natasha Devon has been appointed as the department’s first mental health champion. She will use her experience to encourage more young people to talk openly about mental health issues.

The department has worked with expert organisations to provide guidance and lesson plans on how to teach about mental health. It has also given schools advice on how to run high-quality, school-based counselling and support pupils.

See the updated school counselling guidance.

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