One in ten children and young people in Great Britain have a mental health illness, findings from a new London School of Economics study show.
In addition, 75% of mental issues that occur in adult life start during adolescence, data from “Youth Mental Health: New Economic Evidence” highlights.
“Adolescence and young adulthood are key developmental periods in anyone’s life. Failing to recognise and respond to mental health issues experienced by young people can blight their whole lives,” remarked Professor Martin Knapp, who co-authored the study. “Neglect on the scale we see today is not only morally indefensible but also very costly,” he adds.
The city of Glasgow has set mental health as a top priority and designed a holistic health and wellbeing strategy. First step? Focus on prevention by integrating wellbeing programmes into the school systems.
If you wait until somebody's got a mental health problem addressed through specialist services, then you just create a waiting list.
As a universal service, education is the ideal opportunity to target psychological support, says Barry Syme, Principal Educational Psychologist at the Glasgow City Council.
“If you wait until somebody’s got a mental health problem addressed through specialist services, then you just create a waiting list. We’ve been looking at preventative approaches in schools in Glasgow for the past ten or twelve years,” Syme explains.
Is mental health care a taboo?
In the UK, 55% of people aged 12 to 25 with mental health issues are not receiving psychological support services.
Schools in Glasgow are helping to fill that support gap by offering confidence and resilience building activities to students of different ages. The municipality also provides online assistance, group work or play therapy to kids for whom standard one-to-one counselling is not enough.
“We are trying to develop a wide range of supports tailored to the needs of the individual. For example, a young person with expressive language difficulties or trauma may find one-to-one counselling very challenging,” adds Syme.
We are trying to develop a wide range of supports tailored to the needs of the individual.
Glasgow has upskilled 6,000 teaching staff out of 8,000 over the past five years to provide psychological help or assist children and youngsters through art and play therapy, among other activities. Every secondary educational institution in Glasgow has at least two members trained on suicide intervention, and “we’re trying to get all schools to have a member of staff self-harm trained and looking at eating disorders,” explains Syme.
Empowering and boosting confidence
Since 2001, Glasgow has been focussing on becoming a Nurturing City, embracing a caring approach in nurseries and schools to better meet the needs of all children. In this effort, the city places an emphasis on developing resilience from a young age.
A particularly fragile stage, especially for girls, is the transition from primary to secondary school. “This is the time of adolescence when their bodies are changing, menstruation starts, they’re exposed to bullies and body image issues can emerge, particularly with exposure to social media,” says Bailie Annette Christie, Convener for Wellbeing, Empowerment, Community & Citizen Engagement at the Glasgow municipality.
We're trying to get all schools to have a member of staff self-harm trained and looking at eating disorders
As girls enter high school, they are most at risk of inactivity and isolation, but sport is proven to boost positive thoughts and improve physical wellbeing. The city’s sports development team has recently rolled out Girls on Bikes BMX training to 11-12-years old girls in 12 schools to help them build confidence and feel empowered.
“We know that girls start to drop out of physical activity at high rates in the second and third year of high school. With this programme, we are catching them before that stage,” adds Christie. As well as the practical cycling sessions and physical benefits, the girls are offered self-esteem building and body image workshops to improve mental health.
Girls' bodies change, menstruation starts, they're exposed to bullies and body image issues can emerge particularly with exposure to social media
Data shows that pre and post counselling sessions increase Glasgow students’ scores and positively impacts their mental health and wellbeing.
Prevention work in schools is one of the six pillars of a broader approach that combines elements such as: resilience development in educational institutions and within the community, social media, family, training frontline staff and adults to become mentors and advisers.
Sick leave for mental issues
In parallel, Glagow’s health and wellbeing strategy aims to build a healthy workplace within the municipality’s offices and gain recognition as an employer of choice. For example, the Scottish city works on early psychological intervention and prevention through support initiatives, education, signposting, learning and awareness raising campaigns.
Thanks to this workforce strategy, Glasgow has won the National Health Service’s “Healthy Working Lives” award for eight years in a row.
Girls start to drop out of physical activity at high rates in second and third year in high school. With this programme, we are catching them before that stage
The Glasgow municipality also supports policies such as flexible working hours, parental leave, and makes efforts to stop bullying and harassment in the workplace. New policies have been added recently, including menopause guidance, miscarriage and parental bereavement leave along with support for gambling, alcohol and drug addiction.
Nationwide figures also show that one in three Scottish citizens is affected by mental illness. For Karen Strachan, Senior Corporate HR Officer at the Glasgow municipality, this means that many of the 30,000-strong Glasgow workforce need psychological support.
Indeed, mental issues account for 17% of short-term absences in the municipality, and are the top reason for long-term sick leaves of over 20 days. In the case of short-term absences, “Post Covid and in the current economic climate, it’s more important to look after employees’ wellbeing which impacts on the city’s wellbeing too,” remarks Strachan.
“We can respond with our health and wellbeing strategy, which is a holistic commitment,” adds Strachan. Glasgow works with third parties and stakeholders, such as trade unions, to deliver that strategy.
Post covid and in the current economic climate, it’s more important to look after employees’ wellbeing, which impacts on the city’s wellbeing too
Living well in Glasgow
The Scottish city aims to expand its mental health model aims to make it more comprehensive and help the local population at large. “Inequalities in income, health and quality of life persist and in some parts of Glasgow are widening,” Christie explains. “There are specific concerns regarding the health and wellbeing of population groups such as lone parents, children and young people in low-income families and frail, isolated older people. There are also growing concerns about mental health and wellbeing across all age groups,” she adds.
Glasgow has adopted the World Health Organisation’s definition of mental health that recognises its variation depending on the situation and environment in which a person is living, working or studying.
The municipal pilot Live Well Community Referral Model started a few months ago to support positive mental and physical wellbeing outcomes. In Christie’s words, “it is a refreshed approach to how Glasgow best matches our services with communities’ wellbeing needs.”
Everyone deserves a great Glasgow life
The Glasgow Life Organisation, the city’s arms-length charity that provides sport, cultural activities, events and tourism, leads the initiative. The “Live Well” programme provides non-clinical, community-based services to reduce loneliness and isolation, improve health and well-being, increase literacy and language skills, empower communities and develop active engagement to ensure that locals have a say in the decisions that affect their lives.
Glasgow has a vision for all children, their families and all citizens: to feel that their holistic needs are understood and met through a nurturing approach in every establishment, Christie explains.
“Everyone deserves a great Glasgow life,” she concludes, adding that a key value for the city is to be fairer and more equal, to give everyone the chance to flourish and improve their life chances and choices.
Eurocities’ working group on education tackles social inequality and inequity by promoting inclusive education and equal opportunities. At the heart of its mission is improving the mental wellbeing of students of all ages and backgrounds, especially in the aftermath of the isolation caused by the pandemic and in an uncertain world.