Mental Health and Wellbeing in Schools

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 2:52 pm on 4th December 2018.

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Photo of Daniel Poulter Daniel Poulter Conservative, Central Suffolk and North Ipswich 2:52 pm, 4th December 2018

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Stringer. I commend Layla Moran for bringing the debate to Westminster Hall today, when there are many other pressing demands on our time, because this is an important matter. She rightly highlighted a number of the challenges facing young people in our schools. I draw attention to my declaration in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests; I am a doctor practising in mental health services and a member of the Royal College of Psychiatrists.

We need to analyse first why the problem is happening. Is it down to the increased challenges facing young people—the stresses and strains of exams and the need to perform in tests at schools, as the hon. Member for Oxford West and Abingdon outlined, and general increasing distress among young people—or is it also due to increasing awareness and recognition of mental ill health among young people, and the fact that more young people are therefore prepared to come forward because there is generally a greater recognition of their needs? Perhaps it is a combination of the two. We do not fully know or understand the reasons for greater pressures presenting in services, but they are happening. It is right that the Government are beginning to turn their mind to the issue and have put forward a number of initiatives.

I entirely agree with the hon. Member for Oxford West and Abingdon that, in addressing young people’s mental health, it is important that we do not over-medicalise issues such as teenage angst or normal patterns of growing up. It is important that we do not follow the American system, where—in my view and, I am sure, that of many psychiatrists in this country—a lot of young people are on medication without there necessarily being a good evidence base for that. We have to be very careful about over-medicalising problems, or medicalising problems too quickly, which is perhaps how we should look at it.

The Government are making strides in this area. They are rolling out training for every school and college to ensure that a designated mental health lead will be in place by 2025 and that there will be greater mental health awareness training for teaching staff. There has also been a lot of talk by some, including the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care, about the dangers of social media and its potential impact on young people’s mental health. However, as the hon. Member for Oxford West and Abingdon outlined, eye-catching announcements will do little to deliver the meaningful expansion and improvements in care that young people need and deserve. Although such announcements may make good media headlines, I am afraid the lack of provision on the ground for young people is the real problem. I know that it will be one that the Minister will want to work with colleagues in the Department of Health and Social Care to address.

I want to look at some areas of challenge. The coalition Government had a commendable focus on improving special educational needs provision. We know that a lot of children with special educational needs may also suffer from poor mental health. There is a correlation between some conditions that are associated with special educational needs and psychosis or other mental illness. However, far too often the joint care plans that should exist between the NHS and schools take a long time to come to fruition. Schools are far too often frustrated by the identification of a problem that they have recognised for which the NHS does not have the resources available to support the school in meeting the needs of the child in the way that was envisaged when those joint care plans were legislated for in this House. That speaks very much to the issue of lack of workforce, which the hon. Member for Oxford West and Abingdon outlined in her remarks.