In a time where more children than ever before are struggling with their mental health, we take a closer look at the charity that’s there for young people, and their adult support systems for their time of need
According to the Children’s Commissioner, from 2017 to 2018, 125,277 children were turned away from specialist mental health treatment.
Mental health problems in children and young people are on the rise, and as the budget for mental health services continues to be squeezed, the number of those who are slipping through the net without receiving the appropriate care and support is reaching critical levels.
Place2Be is the charity walking the school corridors to directly support not just children struggling with their mental health, but the parents and teachers that surround them, too.
Officially recognised by the Charity Commission in 1994, Place2Be was originally a project that sought to place counsellors in primary schools, but quickly grew to the point it is today, where they now offer integrated school-based mental health services in 282 primary and secondary schools across England, Scotland and Wales.
To find out more about Place2Be’s invaluable work, we caught up with their CEO, Catherine Roche.
Changing with the times
The world today is a different place to what it was in 1994. From the pressures that our children face, to the way they interact and make connections with each other, being a young person in 2019 comes with its own unique challenges.
Catherine tells us that throughout the charity’s 25 years of service, this is something that Place2Be has had to be aware of.
“Over the years, much has changed,” says Catherine. “But our mission and purpose has remained constant: to improve the wellbeing of children and young people by providing emotional support in schools before problems grow and become more complex in later life.
“Some issues have always been there,” she continues. “Children that come to Place2Be have always faced things such as bereavement, domestic violence, parental addiction, neglect, trauma and more. However, there are also more recent trends such as the rise of social media, which could be contributing towards the increasing numbers of children and young people struggling with issues like depression, anxiety, and self-harm.”
This increase is something that the charity has experienced directly. And Catherine tells us that, despite reaching more than 140,000 pupils with their work in schools, Place2Be is conscious that many young people still aren’t getting the support that they need.
In the hope of supporting those who miss out on vital services, Place2Be partnered up with Heads Together to create the Mentally Healthy School website – a place where teachers can find free, quality-assured resources to help primary schools support their pupils, and take mental health support into their own hands where formal services are unable to be established.
A circle of support
When experiencing mental health problems, it’s easy to feel isolated, not to mention scared and confused. And for children, these negative feelings are only multiplied. But in order to properly support young people with their mental health and emotional wellbeing, parents and teachers need to be fully equipped with resources and information.
“As parents, we all want to do the best for our children and to protect them from any difficulties,” Catherine says. “By helping them to build resilience and learn healthy ways to cope with difficult circumstances or feelings, parents and carers can be proactive about promoting positive mental health. In fact, we often say it’s never too early or too late to start thinking about your child’s mental health!”
But parents are not the only adult support-givers in children’s lives. Teachers play a vital role in the emotional development of any child. This is something that Place2Be has recognised throughout its history, and is a vital link in its mission.
“Teachers are really well-placed to spot mental health problems at an early stage, and to promote positive mental health in the classroom,” Catherine tells us. “They can ensure that children know it’s OK to ask for help if they’re worried about something.”
Place2Be provides a dedicated counselling service for parents and carers, as well as advice, support and training for teachers so that all the adults around children can feel confident that they know how best to support them. Plenty of accessible, free resources can be found on their website.
Healthy inside and out
Children’s mental health week is the pinnacle on the Place2Be calendar, and the charity has been marking this event since 2015. This year the theme is Health: Inside and Out.
“When we think about healthy living, we tend to focus on looking after our bodies – our physical wellbeing – through food, being active and getting enough sleep. However, in order to be healthy overall, it’s important that we look after our minds – our mental wellbeing – too,” says Catherine.
“There’s lots of research that shows that our bodies and minds are closely linked, so improving our physical wellbeing can help our mental wellbeing as well,” she continues. “This year, for our fifth Children’s Mental Health Week, we want to encourage children and adults alike to take steps to look after our bodies and minds, helping us to feel better in ourselves, and to deal with difficult times.”
The point of the week is to ask us to examine the ways that our physical health affects our mental health. Are our children more engaged when they have gone out to play? Are certain foods triggers for anxious behaviour? These are important questions to ask, and are often the foundation to taking care of our emotional wellbeing.
Back to our roots
To finish, Catherine tells us why the work Place2Be does matters so much to her personally: “As a former teacher myself, I understand the enormous importance of education and the crucial role that schools can play in supporting students. I’ve spoken to hundreds of school leaders over the years, and the vast majority tell us that pupils today are bringing more worries into the classroom than they did five years ago. With so much on their minds, it’s no wonder that some children can miss out on all the opportunities that education brings.”
The pressures that children face today are unique to them. They were not around when many of us were growing up, and it’s likely that they will change once again as we and the world around us continue to evolve. But despite this, there are universal experiences of childhood that we can all relate to. From the fun and the joy, to the uncertainty and anxieties, we must be there through it all to support the next generation as they embark on their individual journeys. And Place2Be is the life-affirming charity doing just that.
To find out more about Place2Be and to donate, visit place2be.org.uk