A mental health crisis in our schools has been declared by Edgbaston MP, Preet Kaur Gill, after figures from a survey of schools in the Edgbaston constituency reveal that over 90% have seen an increase in staff and students suffering from mental health problems.

The survey, conducted by Preet Kaur Gill MP and circulated to all primary and secondary schools in her constituency of Edgbaston, coincides with Mental Health Awareness Week. An awareness week which runs from 13-19th May as a way of providing education about mental health and wellbeing. 

In a parliamentary public health debate on Tuesday, Preet highlighted some of her survey’s findings:

“NHS figures show that one in eight people under the age of 19 in England have a mental health disorder.

I recently conducted a survey of schools in my constituency. In ten of the eleven schools who have responded to the survey so far, the number of pupils suffering with mental health problems have increased over the last 5 years. One saw a 15% in increase in the last 12 months alone and all but one have seen these cases becoming more severe.

So what has caused this increase?

I want to place on the record my thanks to the honourable member for Ogmore for his chairing of the All Party Group on Social Media and Young People’s Mental Health and Wellbeing whose recent inquiry found that 27% of children who are on social networking website for 3 or more hours a day have symptoms of mental ill health. This stands against 12% of children who spend no time on such sites.

The government’s own ‘online harms white paper’ concurs with research by the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health which reported that there was “moderately-strong evidence for an association between screen-time and depressive symptoms”

The government needs to take real responsibility for the children in this country and their wellbeing. Instead we have heard that they will support further research, without saying what, and that they welcome industry efforts. What parent would feel reassured by that?

The industry has taken some steps to regulate themselves but it is obvious that it is not doing enough. Public Health cannot be left to businesses and with the mental health of children and young people at stake, we need to look at the different contributing factors.”

Preet goes on to say:

“Schools in my constituency are doing an amazing job at trying to provide appropriate provisions for their pupils to deal with mental health problems; from developing their own wellbeing support to check in sessions and peer mentors. But this is not sustainable.

Schools in my constituency told me that immediate support is usually unavailable to vulnerable children and parents, response times from overburdened mental health agencies are poor and early help support is limited.

And because of the fall in the ability to access core Public Health services, schools are forced to pick up the slack despite often not having had the appropriate training or resources to do so. A quarter of 11-16 year olds with a mental health disorder have self-harmed or attempted suicide. Which rises to 46% among teenage girls with a disorder and the Children’s Commissioner said: “There is a danger that we continue to have a system that fails to help children until they are so unwell that they need specialist intervention”

Funding pressures mean many councils are being forced to cut early intervention services, which support children with low-level mental health issues, and avoid more serious problems in later life which cost far more over coming decades. If we are to improve provision of preventative and early intervention services then it is vital that the government adequately funds public health in the forthcoming spending review.

As reducing spending on public health is short-sighted, and irresponsible at the best of times.”