Why we need to act now to prevent the ticking time bomb of children’s mental ill-Health exploding in the next decade

grenfell tower

We have been thinking a lot about PTSD since 14th June 2017. Some experts believe that environmental factors can come into play with the onset of mental illness.

In the case of the residents of Grenfell Tower in West London, and the surrounding community, their environment experienced such massive trauma that the whole community may be affected for generations to come.

Tony Weekes, author of In My Right Mind, founder of Unity MHS & children’s mental health campaigner explains.

On that fateful morning, I remember one of my son’s classmates telling me – while they were playing – about what had just unfolded after they saw it on the news. They said they knew how the fire had started: a resident’s fridge had exploded starting the fire and lots of people had died. The way that our children perceive the turbulent world around them raises many questions. The acute trauma experienced by the children of the community surrounding Grenfell brings the terrifying consequences of those questions into sharp focus. Some days or weeks later, experts highlighted the trauma being noticed by teachers in the area, as nursery children were re-enacting the fire in their play time. This is one of the indicators of PTSD as noted on NHS resources.

One in ten children (five to 16 years old) have a clinically diagnosable mental disorder (Children’s Society 2008). I spoke to a lady recently whose son experiences severe mental ill health. Once – prior to any symptoms being noticed – when his behaviour was highlighted by his primary school head teacher, her query as to whether his behaviour may be due to his highly intelligent character being bored, was met with disbelief. This was more than a decade ago. The issues faced by our children now have been festering since then or maybe even before.

Of all the children who experience difficulties, 70% do not receive sufficient intervention at an early enough age (Children’s Society 2008). Schools represent the front line of a proactive approach to mental health. All teachers need to be given the training to ask themselves whether bad behaviour should be called just that or whether the underlying issues may run far deeper.

At Unity MHS, we have developed a program whereby all teachers – primary and secondary – can be trained to recognise what may be the signs of early mental distress. Whilst bringing activities to build resilience in children through fun classroom activities, all this knowledge can also be shared with parents. Home is another sector of that proactive front line.

If any issues are raised between this parent/teacher partnership, there will be a periodic professional presence at the school acting as the link to timely outside assistance. This will mean that any possible issue can be remedied without causing undue disturbance to the child’s life and education. We are in talks to establish this program at several schools. Nationwide, 50% of mental health problems are established by age 14 and 75% by age 24. Such proactivity could prevent unchecked “bad” behaviour and upset exploding into an epidemic in the next decade.

A recent report found that every pound invested in such well-being programs for children would save the NHS £84. Just imagine what a difference that could make nationwide.