Petition demands that all pupils in Scotland have access to counsellors, amid fears of a deepening mental health crisis

Call for mental health counsellors in every school

A petition calling for all pupils to have access to trained counsellors in their schools by 2022 has been submitted to the Scottish Parliament.

More than 700 signatories have already backed the petition from Joanne Waddell, a parent and volunteer counsellor for the charity Place2Be, who fears there is a “deepening crisis” in children’s mental health in Scotland.

Supporters say that Scotland has limited counsellors with specific training in supporting children and young people, and that school-based counselling is available only to a small minority.

Ms Waddell said: “My own experience showed how powerful in-school counselling can be for children struggling with their mental health and the challenges of growing up in a 24-hour online world.

“Getting support at an early stage can help to avert children and young people reaching crisis points where costly and lengthy interventions might be needed. This service should be available in all schools and be provided for under national health policy, not something that schools have to provide through their hard-pressed education budgets.”

Teachers ‘can’t give pupils the time they need’

One primary teacher in the north-east of Scotland who supports the petition, and asked not to be named, said: “I can really see the value of having school-based counsellors.

“I have experienced children with mental health problems becoming disruptive in class because they are unable to fully understand or communicate how they are feeling. Often, just being able to talk this through allowed them to re-engage with their learning.

“Unfortunately, as a teacher with whole-class responsibility, I am not always able to give the time I know that child needs. I feel a service such as school-based counselling would be helpful not only to individuals but also their peers.”

Scottish Liberal Democrat health spokesman Alex Cole-Hamilton said: “This petition is an opportunity for the Scottish government to recognise that young people’s mental health is still not being treated with the seriousness it deserves.

“The lives and wellbeing of countless young Scots are counting on a seismic shift in government policy.”

A Scottish government spokesman said: “We want every child and young person to have appropriate access to emotional and mental well-being support in school – our ambitious mental health strategy, launched last year, sets out clearly how we can improve early intervention, and ensure better access to services. The very first action commits us to a national review of counselling services in schools. We expect the results of thereview to inform any future work on school counsellors.”

He added: “Education authorities and all those working in our schools already have a responsibility to support and develop the mental wellbeing of pupils, with decisions on how to provide that support taken on the basis of local circumstances and needs. Some will provide access to school based counselling. Others will utilise the skills of pastoral care staff and liaise with the educational psychological services and  health services for specialist support when required.”


Link to TES article here 

Screen teenagers annually for depression, say US doctors


The American Academy of Pediatrics suggests that annual checkups from the age of 12 could ensure those with depression get appropriate and timely help.
 The American Academy of Pediatrics suggests that annual checkups from the age of 12 could ensure those with depression get appropriate and timely help. 

Should teenagers face annual screenings for depression? Under new guidelines from an American doctors’ group, all children aged 12 and above would be questioned about their mental health every year.

On Monday the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) published new guidancethat adolescents should be examined every year from the age of 12 to ensure those with depression can get timely help.

Meanwhile, on Friday, the UK government finished consulting on a green paper on adolescent mental health, which focuses on early intervention and suggests schools should play a more central role. Strategies include mental health awareness training for school staff and incorporating mental health into personal, social and health education lessons.

Many teenagers are not diagnosed until adulthood, and doctors believe helping vulnerable teenagers early on could help prevent them suffering in silence. Mental health campaigners have said screening for depression is just one piece of the puzzle.

“My depression started during my childhood and worsened from the age of 13, and I was admitted into hospital at 14,” said 21-year-old mental health campaigner May Gabriel.

Gabriel said if she had been screened for depression at 12 she might have received treatment before she became so ill she attempted to take her own life.

“Many young people are not sure where or how to get help, or even that they may need help, and integrating mental health with regular services in this way would enable more young people to get help.”

Sarah Kendrick, of children’s mental health charity Place2Be, said more than half of all mental health problems start before the age of 14.

“It is by picking up on problems early and helping children and young people to build their resilience that we can equip them with the tools they need to cope with life’s difficulties and to thrive as adults,” she said.

“Continuous support, and an open environment in which [children] are encouraged to talk about their feelings, enables early identification of any problems or challenges.”

Universal screening as advocated by the AAP would involve doctors giving teenagers questionnaires on their emotional wellbeing to complete as part of regular checkups.

“Teenagers are often more honest when they’re not looking somebody in the face,” Dr Rachel Zuckerbrot, a child psychiatrist and professor at Columbia University who authored the guidelines, told NPR.

However, many campaigners believe integrating discussions about mental health into conversations in schools and improving the help available are integral to solving the issue.

An NSPCC spokesperson said screening for mental health conditions could help normalise conversations about depression, but must be accompanied by easy access to support services.

“The government must build on the proposals in its recent green paper to ensure all children who need it can access high-quality and timely mental health support,” they said.

“The big question is what happens when you screen positive [for depression],” mental health writer and campaigner Mark Brown said.

“I assume that in the US that means a referral to a specialist covered by health insurance. In the UK, a referral … for every young person who screened positive would have no chance of working, given current resources.

Some experts also have reservations about the recommended age of 12, particularly as UK doctors are hesitant to prescribe antidepressants to minors.

In the UK, the NHS does not usually recommend antidepressants to those under the age of 18, as there is some evidence they may trigger suicidal thoughts and affect brain development.

Dr Vikram Patel, professor of global health at Harvard Medical School, said there was no global precedent for screening at such a young age.

“I would advocate for screening, though I am not convinced this needs to begin at such young ages, as the incidence of depression is relatively low compared to later in adolescence,” he said.

Patel suggested screening should be twinned seamlessly with a treatment programme including psychological interventions and antidepressant medication.

“In my view, this is one of the most important opportunities to the detection, diagnosis and appropriate care for depression,” he said.


Link to Guardian article here