More mental health support for Lancashire's young people

A quarter of the demand on a service to improve the emotional wellbeing of young people in Lancashire is now coming from primary schools.

Tuesday, 12th March 2019, 12:09 am
Updated Tuesday, 12th March 2019, 12:13 am
Support is now being offered for children making the move from primary to secondary school

A quarter of the demand on a service to improve the emotional wellbeing of young people in Lancashire is now coming from primary schools.

Previously, only secondary schools and colleges were eligible for the programme, which is designed to train staff in helping pupils with mental health issues.

But since the emotional health in schools service was extended to include support for year 6 children making the transition to secondary school, demand has risen to such an extent that the scheme is being “radically redesigned” to accommodate the additional requests for help.

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“You can read it in two ways – it’s either [a] worrying sign, or it’s a great sign that schools are reaching out for that support,” Chris Lee, a public behaviour specialist at Lancashire County Council, told a meeting of the authority’s children’s services scrutiny committee.

“It’s proving a very successful contract and the feedback is fabulous – [we need to] enable them to spread themselves as widely as possible, but not so thin[ly] that they’re not effective,” he added.

Public Health England figures show that Lancashire has a “significantly higher” rate of self harm amongst 10-14-year-olds than the England average – however, it did fall in 2016/17, the latest period for which statistics are available. The self-harm rate amongst 15-19-year-olds is broadly in-line with the nationwide average.

One child in every five in Lancashire has experienced a mental health problem by the age of 11.

The school training programme, which is run by clinical psychologists from Lancaster University, provides school staff with practical skills in assessing and understanding mental health, supporting young people with anxiety and low mood and communicating with them when they are distressed.

Particular attention is being paid to pupils experiencing exam stress and periods of transition – be it from primary to secondary school or secondary school to college or university.

Separately, a “real-time” system of recording possible suicides in young people is being developed – in an attempt to prevent so-called “contagion” amongst friendship groups.

Under the new arrangement, local authorities are to be informed by police of any suspicious deaths – enabling immediate intervention to reduce the risk to others. It can often be months before an official verdict of suicide is recorded by a coroner.

Committee chair, Andrea Kay, said that there was also a need to provide advice to parents who felt that there was “something not quite right” with their child – and who were often left to “beat themselves up” in the wake of a tragedy.

Chris Lee accepted that there was “a gap” in the system, but said talking was the best solution.

“Opening a conversation around suicidal intent is not shown to make things worse. All the advice is [to] have the conversation – you’re more likely to make a positive intervention,” he said.

The meeting also heard of the importance of dealing with adverse childhood experiences at the time they happen.

“It’s both relevant for young people while they are young people and relevant for understanding problems that might materialise later in life – because people live with the consequences of adverse childhood experiences,” Mr. Lee said.

Between 2008-2017, the rate of deaths by suicide and ‘injury of undetermined intent’ amongst 15-19-year-olds was 6.1 per 100,000 – that is higher than the England rate of 3.7, but not deemed to be a statistically significant difference.