Rates for hospital treated self-harm among school children in N.I. is very high and rates for mental disorders in our young are among the highest in Europe according to research carried out by the Dept of Health and Glasgow University.
Professor Rory O’Connor, Chair of Health Psychology at the University of Glasgow posited that amongst other risk factors such as bullying, sexual, physical, alcohol and drug abuse problems, these figures may be due to the emotional and psychological legacy of the Northern Ireland conflict, and suggested that this area needs further research.
Given that the conflict occurred largely in socially and economically deprived areas of N.I. such as North and West Belfast – conflict and social deprivation being known risk factors for mental ill health – and that rates of suicide are also unusually high in these areas, research is indeed urgently needed.
Although anecdotal, among our own clients we find that a school focus which is almost exclusively on academic achievement, at the risk of a well-rounded education to help develop mental good Health, places huge stress on children who then come to us with high levels of mental stress and anxiety which can place them at risk of secondary depression. Undiagnosed and untreated depression among school children is high too.
It has to be said that Department of Education (NI) standards for the employment of psychological counsellors of school children are of concern. Our children need – much – more than applicants who possess one hundred hours of practice and a diploma in counselling.
It is heartening to note however, that the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge, who are advocates for good mental health, have decided to send Prince George to a school where a set of core values including kindness, are the most important ‘rule’. Yet the school does extremely well academically too.
Good for William and Kate. They are establishing a sound base for George’s future mental and emotional good health. If they continue in this way I doubt that George will need to trouble us therapists too often in future.
Perhaps schools in Northern Ireland might reflect on Thomas in Battersea’s ethos and parents of schoolchildren in NI, on William and Kate’s example?