Mental Health Education in Schools DebateFull Debate: Read Full Debate
Chris RuaneMain Page: Chris Ruane (Labour - Vale of Clwyd)
Department Debates - View all Chris Ruane's debates with the Department for Education
I beg to move,
That this House has considered e-petition 176555 relating to mental health education in schools.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Brady, and to lead this debate on behalf of the Petitions Committee, given the importance of this issue for society as a whole and because of the frequency with which young people raise it with me whenever I visit local schools and youth organisations in Newcastle upon Tyne North. The e-petition, entitled “Make mental health education compulsory in primary and secondary schools”, has been signed by more than 103,000 people. It reads:
“Mental health education is still not part of the UK curriculum despite consistently high rates of child and adolescent mental health issues. By educating young people about mental health in schools, we can increase awareness and hope to encourage open and honest discussion among young people.”
I am pleased that many hon. Members are present today. That reflects the importance and timeliness of the debate. Many other hon. Members would like to be here but are unable to attend, and I am happy to put their concerns on the record. My hon. Friend the Member for Gedling (Vernon Coaker) asked me to convey his constituents’ concerns, even though he is unable to be here himself.
I congratulate the e-petition’s creators—Tom King, a student mental health nurse, and Adam Shaw, the chairman of the Shaw Mind Foundation—on securing more than 100,000 signatures in the three months before the e-petition was closed just before the unexpected general election. Adam Shaw launched the e-petition as part of his charity’s wider HeaducationUK campaign. He explained why he established it:
“Currently mental health is only taught as an optional component of PSHE—but this is not good enough. It needs to be compulsory. Understanding mental health is an absolute life skill, and should be just as fundamental within the school curriculum as reading and writing. There needs to be a compulsory collaboration and integration between mental health education and physical education, so that children and young people can understand that maintaining good mental health is equally vital to their wellbeing.”
The HeaducationUK website states:
“The UK national curriculum puts a lot of emphasis on teaching our children about how our bodies work, physical illnesses, and how exercise and nutrition can keep us healthy. These are taught in mandatory subjects such as PE (physical education) and biology…Currently, mental health education is taught inconsistently in the UK, and only in secondary schools—despite 1 in 5 children experiencing a mental health difficulty before the age of 11.”
I am more than happy to join my hon. Friend in congratulating those organisations. He has campaigned hard on that issue in this place for many years.
“Mental health education is delivered via the non-compulsory subject PSHE (Personal, Social, Health and Economic), or sometimes during school assembly or drama lessons. As PSHE is a non-compulsory subject, this means that not all schools teach it, and that in turn means that mental health education isn’t always taught.”
Absolutely. The hon. Lady is right that the Select Committees on Health and on Education undertook a joint inquiry and report into these very issues because, crucially, health and education are intertwined when we look at mental health and physical wellbeing. The outcome of that inquiry was that I was very keen to lead in this debate, because I share her view that it is crucial to improve outcomes for children in care as well as for all our children and young people.
The statistics are startling. HeaducationUK highlights some of them: 850,000 UK children and young people aged five to 16 have mental health problems, which equates to around three in every classroom; more than 75% of mental illnesses in adult life begin before the age of 18; the number of young people attending accident and emergency with a psychiatric condition has risen by 106% since 2009; reports of self-harming among girls aged 13 to 16 rose by 68% between 2011 and 2014; and suicide is the biggest killer of young people aged under 35, with an average of 126 suicides a week and more than 200 children of school age dying by suicide each year.
My hon. Friend makes a powerful point. It is about not just shifting the life experience of an individual, but the knock-on effect of shifting the life experience of everyone around the individual and the whole community. We know that the lack of support and mental health education affects not only individual young people, perhaps for the rest of their life, but those around them. The potential returns from investing in our young people in that way are significant.
I am delighted that hon. Members on all sides of this debate are making my case for me. I just hope that the Minister is genuinely listening and taking that on board, so that change and something positive can come from putting on record the cross-party agreement on the need to do something for our young people on this issue.
My hon. Friend makes a key point. It is not just children and young people who face mental health difficulties as a result of the stressed environment in our education system, but the teachers, too. One has a huge impact on the other. Taking a whole-school approach to the issue could transform the lives of everybody in that school environment, all the families who surround it and are connected with it, and the local community.
I thank my right hon. Friend for that intervention. I totally agree: clearly, it will not be possible to involve the family in all cases. I have seen examples in my constituency, particularly in the primary school environment, in which headteachers and teachers have taken really interesting and creative decisions to replicate the family environment for children who have not been brought up in a stable family environment and have not entered primary school in a properly socialised way. They have replicated the family environment and tried to create those kinds of structures because they have been absent, so I completely agree with my right hon. Friend on that.
Other hon. Members have talked about CAMHS and I want to make a few comments about early intervention. If you look at the spectrum of what we are talking about, it could be argued that by the time children get to school any mental distress and difficulties they suffer from will have been baked in for many years. There has been a debate about early intervention and mental health for years; it is what I would call a policy no-brainer. Everybody agrees we should intervene earlier. Everybody agrees that in principle that is a good thing. Yet we are still debating about whether we are doing it sufficiently well and how it should be done. The truth is that we should shift resources to where the evidence points us.
The evidence points to the joint Green Paper on children’s health and education, and adolescent mental health, which other hon. Members have mentioned. The evidence suggests that interventions at an early age, sometimes pre-primary school, are the most effective interventions that we can make on a therapeutic level. From the evidence, it looks like working with children from birth to the age of two, working with families, and working with parents is the most effective intervention we can possibly make. I urge the Minister to be bold in terms of what we will do in that Green Paper. If we can do only one or two things from that Green Paper, we should focus on the really important one, which is shifting resources to genuinely effective early intervention based on evidence. Everything else we have talked about, such as mental health first aid and so on, has a role to play in this debate, but it will not solve the problem we are trying to confront. We will solve this problem by focusing a lot more resources in a laser-like way on early intervention—even before school. That is the critical part of this debate. The one bold move for the Government would be to focus their attention on that. Then we might be able to make significant progress.
Other hon. Members have mentioned CAMHS. If we were designing a child and adolescent mental health service today, we would not design it in the way it currently operates. We have had several reviews of CAMHS over the last decade. Other hon. Members have mentioned Future in Mind, the CQC has just done its review and there have been other reviews. We know that CAMHS is currently not fit for purpose. That is not to say that people working in CAMHS are not doing an excellent job in delivering the services they do, but we need a more integrated service. We need to move away from the tiering approach, which means we concentrate on tier four—that is children with the most severe mental illness. If we can get rid of this metaphor of tiering and focus on access to the appropriate level of care required by a child or young person in a place appropriate to them and deal with it across the spectrum, and integrate it with initiatives that are being taken in schools and the initiatives I have been talking about in relation to early intervention, we can make significant progress.
We have come a long way. People use the word “crisis,” which I am always very wary of using. It is not as if this crisis started today. The debate about children and young people’s mental health has been going on since about 1962 when Enoch Powell, then the Public Health Minister, made the decision that we would no longer put people in asylums but would move towards a community model. That was in 1961 or 1962. We are only now beginning to have a real debate about how we really tackle some of the underlying issues that we face in society in terms of the mental health of children and young people. We are much better at talking about it, but the debate actually is only just beginning and the Government have an opportunity to take some really bold steps, which would have a lasting legacy.
The hon. Gentleman is making a very interesting point about the benefits of mindfulness. I have had the great pleasure of participating in the MPs’ mindfulness training, and have to say that it is quite a challenge to get MPs to turn off their phones and concentrate. Does he agree that we need to encourage more people to understand the benefits of mindfulness and to participate in it?
I appreciate the benefits of a healthy mind, a strong child and preparing children and young people for the challenges in life, but does the hon. Gentleman see that even though someone might have been brought up in a happy, healthy family, mental health issues can hit them at any point? There is not prevention for mental health in the same way as for other things, because we never know what will happen or come round the corner. We need to monitor mental health throughout the years, again and again and again.