In the Press: ‘Pupils are so distressed that they think the only way out is death’

Teenagers are attempting suicide because they can’t cope with the stress, and that is partly down to the fact that education has become a conveyor belt of expectations, warns one parent

My 18-year-old daughter has just texted me to say that one of her friends has tried to kill herself and my daughter is on her way to the hospital to see her. Earlier this year, another one of her friends killed himself, despite embarking on what was to have been a happy and exciting gap year.

And at the weekend, my son went to visit his friend who had tried to kill herself and is still in a psychiatric hospital, where I hope she is receiving the help she needs. Her sudden absence at school was unexplained and he had been trying to get in touch with her for weeks. Once he found out what had happened, he immediately made arrangements to see her and spend time with her. She is 16.

One family, two children, three friends who reached crisis.

And our family cannot be the exception. I just hope it is not the norm. The pressure on children is immense. The endless testing, the feeling that if you fail your GCSEs your life is over, that if you fail your A levels you are useless, that if you get anything less than a 2:1 you might as well not have bothered going to university. All ratchet up the pressure to achieve, the guilt, the feeling that you should always be working. No wonder teenagers drink themselves to oblivion or take drugs, seeking to escape by other means.

It starts at nursery, the constant comparisons, the measuring of achievement, the target setting. And all fun is sucked out of learning by the time you are 7, very aware of the stress of Sats and the pressure on your teacher. Children pick up signals from their role models. They know the stakes. And then through the rest of primary school, to Year 6, where the school’s reputation is on the line, to GCSEs, on which your future life is said to be riding, and on to A levels, where you are berated for not working hard enough almost as a constant for the two-year duration. The pressure of A-level results day is such that another girl at a nearby school killed herself on the day – before even opening the envelope. And, of course, her achievements were stellar.

Young people in crisis
Urgent action is needed nationwide for change. Change in how we assess children, change in the support available to them, and change in how easy that support is to access. Schools do their best, but recent reports have said that children are waiting up to 18 months to be seen by the NHS for mental health problems. This is too long. A year and a half can be an eternity to a young person who is struggling. And it is an absurdity to a young person in crisis. It should not be a surprise that desperate acts are becoming more common. The key to stopping any destructive behaviour, be it self-harm or self-criticism, is action – and action is what we need now. Young Minds has outlined what the government should include in its forthcoming Green Paper on children’s mental health. The government must listen to the good sense talked by an organisation that works at the front line of children in crisis. And that is the key. These are children. Children who are so distressed that they think the only way out is death.

We must help our teenagers develop resilience, a skin thick enough for them to survive living in the eye of social media, and optimism about their future. In Brexit Britain, where many teenagers feel betrayed, optimism is hard to come by, but social media can serve many purposes, including one of support and camaraderie. I have not met a friend of my children’s who did not look out for their fellow teens and who was not there when needed. Behind every teenage selfie is someone capable of compassion and good sense.

This is not the snowflake generation. This is a generation of children who have had to learn to live in the critical eye of the social network, with the constant comparisons, with the pressure always to be on point. The commodification of education has created a conveyor belt of expectations, and they believe that if you do not meet those then forget it, your life has no value. Play up, play the game, or game over.

Our children are worth more than this and we should value them for what they can bring to the world. The distress some of them live with cannot be ignored – we must acknowledge it and act now to give them the future they deserve.

Karl Ingram is a pseudonym. He is a parent of teenage children in London

Link to the original blog:


Teaching primary school children about mental health

The mental health of children is a rising area of concern and one which schools are trying to combat. Emma Jane Kirby reports from south London about a scheme that involves teaching primary schoolchildren about mental health through fun games and workbooks.

The children are half out of their chairs, hands straining in the air, knees jiggling with excitement as they beg to be picked.

The smiling lady at the front of the class repeats her question.

“Can I see your thoughts? Can I smell them or touch them?” she asks.

Managing moods

Dr Anna Redfern is clearly a gifted communicator as well as a clinical psychologist. It is not everyone who can persuade a class of eight- and nine-year-olds to talk about their innermost feelings in front of each other.

Yet here are the children of Class 4S at the Oliver Goldsmith Primary School, Peckham, south-east London, openly admitting that they have days when they feel down or angry or just very sad.

“No-one can see our thoughts,” says a little girl confidently. “And that’s why we need to talk about them.”

Dr Redfern and her colleague Dr Debbie Plant are delivering a new programme called
Cues-Ed, funded by the South London and Maudsley Trust.

The programme teaches children to recognise the signs when things aren’t right, and some behavioural techniques to help them manage low mood.

“We all have feelings,” says Dr Redfern.

“And we will all have difficulties in our lives which will make us feel and think things that are very challenging.

“And rather than being fearful about talking about these things, we want children to have the language that allows them to get the right help and to say, ‘Actually this is how I am feeling, these are the things I am thinking and I need some extra support.'”

For one exercise, children separate helpful and unhelpful thoughts written on pieces of paper. 

In today’s lesson the children are looking at the difference between helpful and unhelpful thoughts.

Specially designed cartoon characters help the children relate to how different situations might make them feel – all the children sympathise when one of the cartoon characters is feeling left out and imagines that his friends are laughing at him.

‘We should be worried’

The whole programme is carefully couched in fun and child-friendly terms. Adult words such as “depression” are never used.

“Do you ever have one of those really bad days when everything seems to be against you,” asks Dr Redfern with a big smile. “Like when you go downstairs for breakfast and there are no more Coco Pops, there’s only Weetabix?”

The class groans in horror, and the children start chatting to each other about their own bad days.

For the full story click on the link; 

Prevention is better than cure – looking out for our next generations

We are all aware of the old saying ‘prevention is better than cure’. If we feel we are coming down with a cold, or have the start of a headache, we will intervene early to hopefully prevent it.

Within every school in the UK there is a qualified first aider to hand, in case of physical illness or injury. There is a preventative measure in place should young people need physical first aid help during their time in the learning environment. Their wellbeing and safety is very much considered in this regard. There are effective interventions and systems in place that can be utilised quickly and easily.

Although there have been some positive changes in recent years, when it comes to mental health, this is more often than not ignored. It is the invisible illness with so much uncertainty and negativity still surrounding it.

How often do we come across mental health first aiders in schools?

Unfortunately, not very often at all.

Although we would like to have the same preventative measures applied to mental health as we have in place for physical health, this frustratingly is not the case.

From a recent article from Dr David A Lee, Lead Consultant Clinical Psychologist, discussing the importance of Mental Health First Aid (MHFA) in schools, states;

‘It is fundamental that early warning signs of mental health are detected at an early rate in children and adolescents so that prompt action can be taken to ensure helpful support and appropriate treatment. Unfortunately, this is not our reality at present’

This really does bring to the forefront that early intervention is what is needed. We need to be proactive, not reactive.

It is stated within the same article that;

‘5% of adolescents suffer from depression at any one time and 20% will experience depressive symptoms by the time they enter childhood. To add to this, approximately 10-15% of children or adolescents have one or more diagnosable anxiety disorder.’

It is also discussed that eating disorders are on the increase, particularly in young females.

Why as a society are we not more concerned about the rise of mental health issues in our young people?

Emotional wellbeing should be at the forefront when supporting young people. Mental health training should be provided for frontline workers supporting and working with children and adolescents.

Anyone can be trained in mental health and anyone can respond to those in distress.

Why should we let individuals get to such high levels of distress, before we step in, when we all know, and likely use that famous saying ‘prevention is better that cure’

By having trained staff within each and every school, caregivers can detect warning signs of possible mental ill health and ensure that early intervention is implemented. This can be in the form of signposting, liaising with specialists in the field, seeking appropriate professional help, such as psychological treatments, or referring on to a safeguarding lead or pastoral support. While doing so, it is vital we work collaboratively with the individual and empower them to make their own decisions about their needs and wants.

Finally, Dr David Lee goes onto state;

While MHFA is still very much in its infancy as a concept, it offers a unique solution to the needs of schools and colleges in terms of cultivating pupil wellbeing and positive mental health, and to the early recognition of mental health problems’

If you have any training needs surrounding mental health, Harmless can provide bespoke CPD accredited training packages as well as the MHFA 2 day programme

Contact us on…
Phone: 0115 934 8446

Teenage mental health… our future

All in the mind on BBC Radio 4 discusses the issues surrounding teenage mental health.  Claudia Hammond is joined by a panel of experts, Shirley Reynolds, Dr Dickon Bevington, Kimberley Robinson and Sarah Hulyer, to discuss the pressures teenagers face and offer thoughts on how services could be reshaped to cope with this changing demand as well as suggest what parents can do to help their teenagers.

This radio programme is definitely worth a listen. With 1 in 10, 5-15yr olds experiencing a mental health difficulty and 1 in 5 of those adolescents being rejected for treatment, teenage mental health is a growing concern.

Furthermore risk factors for mental health difficulties appear to be expanding. Not only does deprivation and abuse influence teenage mental health, Shirley Reynolds also highlights the high numbers of adolescents who are struggling within enriched environments. So why is this?

The show went out into the community for the answer and with around 5,000 responses with these 5 themes appeared. These included school stress, Bullying, Sexual pressures, uncertain futures and lack of access to help. The theme ‘uncertain futures’ was one that hit home with me. Many of the responses discussed the problem of identity and the pressures and expectations to know who you are and where you are going. It was clear that these expectations led to perfectionist beliefs which in turn left many adolescents fearful of failure. Some described a choking anxiety and an all-consuming fear of making mistakes.

These young people are our future, they are blank pages waiting to absorb the wonders of the world we live in. They will continue our work, our beliefs, our hopes and yet are we nurturing and guiding them into healthy, resilient, hopeful beings? Or do we need to change? Just because something worked before doesn’t mean it is supportive now, we need to change our support strategies and adapt to the needs of our future generations.

If you would like to watch this show, please click the following link:

If you want to know more about how to support young people with mental health difficulties and you live or work in Nottingham City why not sign up for some free mental health workshops.


Monday 16th November

MHFA Lite 9:30am – 12:30pm

MHFA Lite is an introductory mental health awareness course. You’ll receive a MHFA Lite manual that you can take away with you at the end of the session and also an attendance certificate from MHFA England

Thursday 19th November

Mental Health Awareness Training for Frontline Workers 1:00pm – 5:00pm

This workshop will focus on improving skills and confidence to recognise people with mental health problems and offer appropriate support

Friday 27th November

Mental Health Community Workshop – Carers and Citizens 1:30pm – 3:30pm

These workshops will focus on how to promote resilience and wellbeing in the community through building of awareness and resilience amongst citizens and carers

A drop in session will be held after the Community Workshop

Monday 30th November

Mental Health in the Workplace – Managers training 1:00pm – 5:00pm

This course will examine how practical support can be provided to create m environment that is healthy for staff and promote interventions to raise awareness.

The course will show delegates what they can do to support other staff and colleagues who may be experiencing problems with their mental health

By improving mental health outcomes at work delegates will benefit from;

•          Compliance with legislation such as the Equalities Act

•          Reduced grievance and discrimination claims

•          Demonstrable  corporate social responsibility

•          Reduced staff turnover

•          Reduced sickness absence

•          A healthier workplace

•          Better staff morale

•          More committed staff, and

•          Skills retention


Interested? Then please email, or call the office on 0115 934 8445, and ask to speak to one of our training team.

In The News: Beds crisis hits NHS care for mentally ill children

Beds crisis hits NHS care for mentally ill children

Hospitals have been advised to adopt emergency procedures and admit young mental health patients to adult wards.

The NHS crisis intensified this weekend as hospitals were advised to adopt emergency procedures and admit young mental health patients to adult wards because of an acute national shortage of places for children and adolescents.

Instructions sent by NHS England on Friday night to hospital trusts, and leaked to the Observer, state that the shortage of beds for young mental health patients is now so serious that 16- and 17-year-olds – who should be admitted to specialist child adolescent mental health facilities (CAMHS) – are likely instead to be admitted to adult wards.

The Mental Health Act 1983 states that 16- and 17-year-olds should only be admitted to adult wards in a “crisis situation” and for a short period, or where a patient is nearly 18 and the adult ward has appropriate specialist services.

Labour’s shadow minister for public health, Luciana Berger, described the situation as “utterly appalling” and blamed the crisis on £50m of cuts to children’s mental health services since 2010.

In the email seen by the Observer, which was sent on Friday on the instruction of national officials working for NHS England, the medical director for East Anglia, says: “I have just been asked to inform you all by the national specialist commissioning team of the current national lack of child and adolescent mental health beds.

“I do hope that you will not have cause to need one for any of your young population over the weekend but just to advise of the likely challenge if you do … Depending on your hospital policy this is likely to mean the 16- 18-year-olds will need admission to the adult wards, which I appreciate causes an even bigger challenge.”

NHS England declined to say whether similar instructions had been issued nationwide, as the memo suggested. But a spokesman said beds were still available for the most serious cases.

“Since August last year we’ve opened an extra 46 beds for children with the most severe mental health needs. Many need this care so, while beds are available we have asked services to ensure they have plans in place for any young person with mental health problems to receive the right care, in the right place at the right time to suit their individual needs.”

Sarah Brennan, chief executive of the mental health charity YoungMinds, said: “It is unacceptable that children and young people are being placed on adult wards which is completely inappropriate for them, and which the Mental Health Act rightly says should not happen. Young people in crisis should also not be transferred hundreds of miles to get a bed, which is going to be the result of this situation and in fact has been for far too long.

For full story follow the link

Childline reports surge in calls about self harm and suicide

ChildLine’s recently published Can I Tell You Something? report has revealed a worrying trend for teenagers to contact the service about issues such as self-harm, suicide and online bullying.

ChildLine reports an 87 per cent increase in contacts regarding online bullying, whilst bullying contacts overall increased by just eight per cent.
More than 1,400 young people told ChildLine that they were experiencing racist bullying, a significant 69 per cent increase on last year. A common theme was for young people to be called a “terrorist” or a “bomber” and to be told to “go back to where they came from”.

Self-harm was mentioned in almost 47,000 counselling sessions, a 41 per cent year-on-year increase. ChildLine also reports a very worrying 50 per cent rise in contacts about self-harm specifically from 12 year olds – the highest increase of any age.

Contacts where young people felt suicidal increased by 33 per cent, with over 4,500 contacts from children aged between the ages of 12 and 15 alone, regarding suicide.

Peter Wanless, CEO of NSPCC has called for the voices of vulnerable children to be heard if these new emerging problems are to be tackled.

Barbara McIntosh, Head of Children and Young People at the Mental Health Foundation, responded to the report:

“These figures confirm the urgent need to tackle the escalating problems of child and adolescent mental health in the UK. The fact that the top issues affecting young people last year were depression and unhappiness is very worrying. We know half of all lifetime mental health problems have their roots in childhood so prevention and help early on are essential to ensure young people’s wellbeing.

“Early intervention and appropriate, youth friendly services are vital if we are to prevent mental health problems from becoming chronic and enduring in adulthood. The great economic benefits are compelling, with a potential saving of £150,000 per child alongside the reduction in anguish faced by each young person and his or her family.”