Guest blog by Rick Bradley, Operations Manager for ‘Mind and Body’
We are now just over six months into our delivery of the ‘Mind and Body’ programme and things are progressing really well. Projects are running in Kent, Cornwall and Lancashire where teams are working with young people involved in or deemed vulnerable to self harming behaviours. ‘Mind and Body’ brings participants together in small discussion groups where they get to explore mental health topics, attitudes and behaviours in an environment where they are not judged and where there is no stigma.
More information can be found here.
A multi-site independent evaluation is currently being undertaken by researchers at the University of Bath, due for publication early in the New Year. The programme uses validated outcome tools including a Strengths and Difficulties questionnaire, the short version of the Warwick-Edinburgh Mental Wellbeing Scale and a Timeline Followback which looks at self harming (and other risk behaviours) over the past twenty-eight days. Initial results have been hugely positive.
There have been consistent reductions in the frequency of self harming thoughts and actions by participants as well as encouraging increases in their mental wellbeing. Feedback from schools and the young people taking part in ‘Mind and Body’ has also been fantastic, as demonstrated below.
Less positive is some of the wider data that the programme has generated. In order to determine young people appropriate for sessions, targeted year groups (students aged 13 – 17) are asked to complete an anonymised online survey which explores a range of thoughts, attitudes and behaviours. Participants answer questions which can identify those that might be feeling anxious, depressed and / or those who have exposure to self harming behaviours from others. The process, developed in collaboration with The Training Effect, has worked well in signposting relevant young people to the service but also offers insight into current levels of need in this area.
The infographic below shows some of the key findings from nearly three thousand young people from Kent, Cornwall and Lancashire who have completed the surveys since September.
The correlation between smoking and self harm thoughts has become increasingly apparent; smoking itself is always regarded as risky in its own right but it is being shown to be a predictor of other risk behaviours too. The same also can be seen with alcohol and, from discussion with young people, it seems likely that these behaviours are being used to offer relaxation or comfort from stress and anxiety. Feedback from participants also links smoking and drinking with a desire to belong and to have an affiliation with a particular social cohort, often triggered by low self-esteem and a lack of confidence.
Perhaps the most concerning figure is the statistic that 34% of respondents think about harming themselves with 7% of respondents feeling this way ‘most’ or ‘all of the time’. (It should be remembered that these surveys are completed by whole year groups and do not target individuals who may have a higher predisposition to such thoughts or behaviours.) If this statistic is replicated across wider populations, as is likely, it highlights why so much more needs to be done to support the emotional wellbeing of children and young people.
The difficulty with this is the lack of appropriate provision to help those in need. Our survey showed that less than half of respondents felt there was adequate support for them within their schools and this shows no sign of improving with increased demands on pastoral staff and youth services. The situation is replicated outside of school environments with equally high pressures on specialist services. I cannot remember a time when CAMHS thresholds have been higher; we have experienced cases of individuals not being accepted by specialist services despite presenting with very high level needs – a recent example of a young person not meeting thresholds despite trying to drown herself a month prior to her referral is testament to this.
This point is not to criticise CAMHS, youth services or school staff but instead to highlight the impossible position they are in. Even with the most passionate, dedicated and highly skilled staff, if you have limited resources there is only so much that can be done. Vulnerable individuals will go without support because there is simply not the capacity to offer help to all those that require it. This is why it is essential that we keep talking about the importance of more funding in these areas. Great work is being done and we need to showcase this and make it hard for commissioners not to fund effective interventions.
Rick Bradley is the Operations Manager for ‘Mind and Body’. Follow him on Twitter: @RickBrad1ey