Are our children learning to be as mentally fit as they are physically fit?
There have been few generations as transformative for children as this one, other than perhaps the 1950s and 1960s, with both opportunities and pressures far more pronounced.
The internet has opened up the world for them, but has also brought that world constantly into their bedrooms. Globalisation has expanded their future job market, but also made it, and their school performance, much more competitive. The rise of divorce means more children are dealing with family breakdown. Even children’s events are now being targeted by terrorists, making the world a more complicated place to navigate.
Just as nutritional and physical fitness is encouraged in schools as a vital part of life education, so mental health is finally being recognised as crucial. According to a report by the Royal Collage of Surgeons in 2013, just under one in three young adolescents (31.2 per cent) in the 11-13 age range had experienced a mental disorder at some point in their life.
As most mental health difficulties begin in childhood it is crucial to promote mental health and wellbeing at this early stage
Given the dramatic changes to children’s lives, have Government, parents and schools kept up, and are we preparing our kids to be as mentally fit as they need to be for the world they now live in?
According to WHO, schools should play a significant role in influencing positive mental health and reducing risk factors for mental health difficulties. International evidence shows that school-based programmes, when implemented effectively, can lead to long-term benefits.
According to Kate Mitchell, senior policy and research officer at Mental Health Reform, a coalition of Irish organisations working in the sector, it’s the “implementing effectively” part that has been a concern in Ireland.
“Implementation of the national guidelines for primary and postprimary schools on mental health promotion and wellbeing has not been consistent,” she says, “because there is no clear implantation plan, no adequate resources and training for teachers, and poor signposting on how to direct children with significant issues.
“This may change with the roll-out of a new component on wellbeing this year as part of the new junior cycle reform, but it is imperative that such efforts are sustained.”
Mental Health Reform advocates for a nationwide schools’ programme on mental health and wellbeing in order to build resilience among the younger population and improve mental health outcomes, including those for children and young people with existing mental health difficulties.
“As most mental health difficulties begin in childhood,” says Mitchell, “it is crucial to promote mental health and wellbeing at this early stage and equip children and young people with the resilience and skills to reduce the likelihood of mental health difficulties in later life.”