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Can mindfulness tackle the mental health epidemic?

World Mental Health Day on 10 October gives us all an opportunity to reflect on whether we are really doing enough to support young people and mental health in an ever-changing world.

The statistics are alarming: every year one adult in four, along with one child in 10, will suffer a mental health issue. Half of all mental illness begins by the age of 14, but most cases go undetected and untreated. In fact, according to UK estimates only a quarter of those with mental health problems undergo ongoing treatment. Suicide is the second leading cause of death among 15-29 year olds and is the single biggest killer of men under the age of 45.

Helping young people to grow up healthy, happy and resilient is the responsibility of everyone, not least schools, where there is a growing recognition of the importance of building mental resilience from the earliest age possible to cope with the challenges of today’s world. 

In my experience, for young people suffering from mental health there is a lot bubbling under the surface before symptoms appear, and it is their inability to communicate their feelings that results in actions such as self-harming or even worse.

Our approach with 1decision is to support teachers in exploring mindfulness. Children from the age of five have the opportunity to recognise and name a range of emotions including worry, anger and grief, and develop an understanding of their physical effects, distinguishing between those that feel pleasant and those that feel unpleasant or uncomfortable.

Within the topics on our feelings and emotions module, there are many opportunities to help students gain the skills to manage their emotions positively and to understand how to seek help in the early stages.

Another factor in mental health is the 24/7 online world. When I was at school, any arguments or disagreements were mostly left at the school gate. Now these continue online, often long into the evening. Young people’s likeability today is based on how they feel about themselves and what others say about them on social media – their confidence can be ripped out so easily.

Helping children understand the golden rules for staying safe online, and how their online activity can affect others, is another issue we tackle. 1decision has developed supportive materials for teachers suited to 21st century children to explore all of these areas and support children in our media-dominated society.

Yet more work needs to be done to build mental resilience. An approach to promoting and protecting adolescent health can help: working on areas such as healthy diet and understanding why we need a healthy mind are crucial. This is where many schools can and do make difference. 

The outcome of the Department for Education consultation on Relationships, Sex and Health Education, which closes on 7 November, should give schools more direction on this issue. But prevention of mental health begins with better, and earlier, understanding of pupils needs.

Hayley Sherwood is creator of 1decision, part of Headway learning resources. 

For more information on World Mental HealthDay click here.

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