The scale of mental distress and suffering amongst young people is alarming. More than 4,000 children under 14 have attempted to take their own lives in the past year according to NHS figures. Further figures from the World Health Organisation, Depression Alliance, National Statistics and MIND, show that:

  • 2% of under 12s are affected by depression
  • 5% of teenagers are affected by depression.
  • There were 5,206,044 calls to the Samaritans in 2006.

Recent research by the NCH reveals that as many as 1 in 17 adolescents may be self-harming. Suicides by young people is second only to road accidents.

The problem of mental ill-health is now realised as so serious the government have set up a review body to look into the provision of mental health services for young people. Kevin Brennan said:

"In today's complex society the family unit is changing, and an increasing number of children and young people are finding it difficult to cope."

Clearly we need to be more vigilant in spotting the signs of mental health problems amongst young people. One of the best ways forward may be to educate young early, supporting them in being able to ask for help and to find better ways to cope with distress before it becomes a major health problem.

As a counsellor working within school, I see how much dedicated work is done by Pastoral Support teachers, but I also see how important a confidential counselling service is to extend and support that work. Counselling provided by a professional within the school gives students who need it a space and time to talk in confidence. It is this confidential space that gives students the opportunity to discuss problems in depth and therefore receive more individualised and far reaching support. Call Lynda on: 01732 367660 or email if you would like to set up a counselling service in your school or to find out more about it.

Working with self-harm and eating disorders

One of the major ways that we can make a difference in helping young people to cope is by educating them about self-harm, teaching them ways to help themselves during difficult times and how they can get help and support if they need it. If you would like to know more about how you can do that in your school please call: 01732 367660 or email for help.

Antidepressants and Young people

As long ago as 2005 NICE guidelines recommended antidepressants should not be widely used with young people and set new standards for treating depression in young people and children. The guidelines recommended that:

  • children young people with moderate to severe depression should be offered specific psychological therapy as a first line of treatment
  • that antidepressant medication should not be offered to moderate or severe cases of depression except in conjunction with concurrent psychological therapy
  • that children and young people with mild depression should not be offered antidepressants at all
  • that teachers and health care professionals should be trained to recognise symptoms of depression and to assess young people who may be at risk.

Despite these recommendations young people are still being prescribed antidepressants and they are not being offered appropriate psychological help through the NHS system. However many schools in Britain are beginning to offer a counselling service, but there are many more who are not.

The Counselling in Schools Project carried out between September 2002 and June 2004 by the University of Strathclyde, took 197 referalls from schools and gave 1102 hours of counselling sessions to the children and young people in three schools in the area. From the results of the study it can be shown that:

  • Clients, teachers and pupils across three schools concluded it was important to have a counsellor in their school.
  • Clients and pupils stated that the opportunity to 'be listened to' and 'to get things off their chest' was the main reason why they valued the service, with many others welcoming the opportinuty for guidance or suggestions.
  • that there was a preference to locate the counsellor within the school.

It is clear from the studies carried out and the recommendations from NICE that children would benefit from a counselling service within their school. Also that addressing needs for psychological help at an early stage may resolve problems quicker and prevent much more serious consequences later.

Eating disorders and self-harm, too, are rising at an alarming rate amongst young people. Although there is research being carried out to help people with these disorders, again it is very much hit and miss as to who gets that help.

Counselling SouthEast do workshops and talks in schools on both eating disorders and self-harm. Further information about these can be obtained by email or telephone. See below for contact details.