Mental health difficulties start young – so why don’t we give primary schools more help?

Article from the New Statesman


MPs are hearing from young people forced to leave home for treatment and support.

alf of those people who experience mental health difficulties do so before the age of 14.

The problems begin early – so early interventions are essential.

Both the Children’s Society and the British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy say that access to good quality counselling in schools and colleges can play an “instrumental role” in promoting positive mental health and well-being.

Ofsted have found that where personal, social and health education (PSHE) is not delivered to a high standard, pupils have gaps in both their knowledge and ability to deal with “serious safeguarding areas” such as mental health.

According to data published by Young Minds in December, half of England’s Clinical Commissioning Groups (CCGs) are not using the money that has been given to them on mental health care for young people. Some or all of their share of the £1.4bn allocated to improve NHS care of troubled young people is being used for other purposes.

The cuts to child and adolescent mental health services has been systematic and deliberate. Funding has fallen by almost £50m between 2009/10 and 2012/13.

And most MPs, like me, are dealing with cases where young people with mental health difficulties are being sent far away from home for treatment and support. In many cases, they are being sent hundreds of miles away from their families and friends – obviously not the best approach to enabling mental well-being.

So these are the issues that confront me, both as shadow secretary of state for education and as patron of the Labour Mental Health campaign and a passionate advocate for parity of treatment between mental and physical health.

And what has been Theresa May’s response?

More warm words.

Theresa May says she will “transform mental health support” in Britain. David Cameron pledged a similar “revolution in mental health treatment”.

We have heard it all before.

She now says the government will invest £15m on community-based care such as crisis cafes and community clinics.

That won’t go very far, when we see every day how social care is already in a deep crisis.

Mental health is a case study in Tory failure.

Repeatedly, the Tories make speeches saying they will give mental health parity with physical health.

But their record is dismal: spending on mental health fell by £600m in the last parliament, money intended for children’s mental health goes to other priorities, and there are 6,000 fewer mental health nurses than when the Tories came to power.

So we could do with some action from the Prime Minister. And it’s not difficult.

First, the government should commit to ring-fencing mental health funding to stop CCGs using that money for other things.

They should introduce statutory high-quality PSHE in all schools.

They should ensure that all schools and colleges have access to good quality counselling to promote positive mental health and well-being.

They should extend mental health first aid training to not just secondary schools, but primaries, given that 50 per cent of mental health problems start before the age of 14.

And they should bring forward the £700m of social care funding allocated – and spend it now.

They won’t do any of these simple things, of course. Which tells you all you need to know about the PM’s commitment to improving mental health support for our children.


“I felt so frantic I couldn’t see my screen”: why aren’t we taking mental health sick days?

An article from the New Statesman


Some employees with mental health problems fake reasons for taking days off, or struggle in regardless. What should companies be doing differently?

“I would go to the loo and just cry my eyes out. And sometimes colleagues could hear me. Then I would just go back to my desk as if nothing had happened. And, of course, no one would say anything because I would hide it as well as I could.”

How many times have you heard sobbing through a work toilet door – or been the person in the cubicle?

Jaabir Ramlugon is a 31-year-old living in north London. He worked in IT for four years, and began having to take time off for depressive episodes after starting at his company in 2012. He was eventually diagnosed with borderline personality disorder last January.

At first, he would not tell his employers or colleagues why he was taking time off.

“I was at the point where I was in tears going to work on the train, and in tears coming back,” he recalls. “Some days, I just felt such a feeling of dread about going into work that I just physically couldn’t get up … I wouldn’t mention my mental health; I would just say that my asthma was flaring up initially.”

It wasn’t until Ramlugon was signed off for a couple of months after a suicide attempt that he told his company what he was going through. Before that, a “culture of presenteeism” at his work – and his feeling that he was “bunking off” because there was “nothing physically wrong” – made him reluctant to tell the truth about his condition.

“I already felt pretty low in my self-esteem; the way they treated me amplified that”

Eventually, he was dismissed by his company via a letter describing him as a “huge burden” and accusing him of “affecting” its business. He was given a dismissal package, but feels an alternative role or working hours – a plan for a gradual return to work – would have been more supportive.

“I already felt pretty low in my self-esteem. The way they treated me definitely amplified that, especially with the language that they used. The letter was quite nasty because it talked about me being a huge burden to the company.”

Ramlugon is not alone. Over three in ten employees say they have experienced mental health problems while in employment, according to the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development. Under half (43 per cent) disclose their problem to their employer, and under half (46 per cent) say their organisation supports staff with mental health problems well.

I’ve spoken to a number of employees in different workplaces who have had varying experiences of suffering from mental ill health at work.

Taking mental health days off sick hit the headlines after an encouraging message from a CEO to his employee went viral. Madalyn Parker, a web developer, informed her colleagues in an out-of-office message that she would be taking “today and tomorrow to focus on my mental health – hopefully I’ll be back next week refreshed and back to 100 per cent”.

Her boss Ben Congleton’s reply, which was shared tens of thousands of times, personally thanked her – saying it’s “an example to us all” to “cut through the stigma so we can bring our whole selves to work”.

“Thank you for sending emails like this,” he wrote. “Every time you do, I use it as a reminder of the importance of using sick days for mental health – I can’t believe this is not standard practice at all organisations.”

Read the rest of the article HERE