Lucy Thorpe, Head of Policy, Mental Health Foundation

We all have mental health, just as we have physical health.  This will sometimes be good, sometimes poor; sometimes better, sometimes worse. 

Understanding this, and that there are well-known risks to our mental health, and evidenced ways to protect and support it, is important for governments and institutions with an interest in supporting human beings to thrive.

Research shows that people’s likelihood of developing mental health problems is not distributed equally.  It is affected by the social, economic and familial context in which we are born, grow up, study, work and live.

Known risk factors for poor mental health, in childhood and adulthood, include: violence and abuse, the stigma and discrimination that can be linked to living with a characteristic protected under the Equality Act 2010, poor housing, unemployment, poverty, debt, and having a long-term physical health condition (Mental Health Foundation, 2020; Mental Health Policy Group 2019).  

Prevalence of mental health problems and distress

Mental health problems are one of the largest causes of disability (NHS England, 2016) and sickness absence (Stevenson-Farmer Review, 2017) in the UK.  Before the pandemic, population mental health was already in a critical state, affecting one in five mothers during pregnancy or in their baby’s first year (Centre for Mental Health & LSE, 2019), one in eight children and young people aged 5-19 (NHS Digital, 2018), and one in six adults (McManus S et al, 2016).  

The most recent prevalence study (McManus, S et al, 2016) found that women (19%) are more likely than men (12%) to meet the criteria for common mental disorders (CMD) such as anxiety and depression, and more women than men also reported severe CMD symptoms – 10% compared to 6% of men.  Since 2007, there have been increases in CMD symptoms in late mid-life men and women (aged 55 to 64).  Most mental health problems were more common in people living alone, in poor physical health, and not employed.

Only one in three adults aged 16-74 with such conditions were accessing mental health treatment.  They were most likely to be female, White British and in mid-life. People with particularly low treatment rates included Black/Black British people, and those most likely to have unmet treatment requests were young, and people living in low-income households.  About half of people with CMD and an unmet treatment request were not receiving any other type of treatment when surveyed.  

Self-harm increased across all age groups between 2000 and 2014, but increased most among young women aged 16-24, who also had high rates of CMD and positive screening for post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and bipolar disorder. 

Advertisement

The latest suicide statistics (2018) showed a significant increase in suicide in the UK for the first time since 2013, for both men and women.  Suicide rates among young men aged 20-24 increased by 30%, and the suicide rate for young females is now at its highest rate on record (Samaritans, 2019).   Research has identified bereavement, abuse, neglect, self-harm, mental or physical ill health, and experiencing academic pressures as just some of the common risk factors for suicide among young people (National Confidential Inquiry into Suicide and Homicide 2017).

The impact of the Covid-19 pandemic on mental health

We know that economic recessions pose a risk to mental health and are linked to higher rates of suicide (Oyesanya M et al, 2015).  The Institute for Fiscal Studies has cited estimates that if the economic effects of the virus are similar to the downturn following the 2008 financial crisis, about half a million more people will experience a mental health difficulty over the next year (IFS, April 2020); further waves of Covid-19 will increase this number, and the mental health effects will last even longer.  

According to the IFS, mental health in the UK during the pandemic has worsened by 8.1% on average, and by much more for young adults and for women (IFS, 10 June 2020).  It has also found that the worst economic outcomes are for those experiencing severe shocks but without mechanisms to mitigate them, such as single parents, those in the lowest education groups and ethnic minorities (IFS, 4 June 2020).

The Foundation’s ‘Coronavirus: Mental Health in the Pandemic study’ is finding that single parents, unemployed people, young adults, people with long-term disabling health conditions, and people with pre-existing mental health conditions have been more likely to report mental distress than the population as a whole.

Educational Attainment and Mental Health

Lower educational achievement, such as lower literacy levels, are also associated with mental health problems in adulthood (Parsons & Bynner, 2008). Similarly, dropping out of education has been associated with substance misuse, mood disorders and suicidal ideation (Esch, P et al, 2014).  In this context, the World Health Organisation (WHO) has identified several risk factors for mental health including: failure to provide an appropriate environment to support attendance and learning; inadequate or inappropriate provision of education to assist those needing additional support, and academic failure (WHO, 2005).  

A key point of educational vulnerability is transitions, from one place of learning to another, which some students find difficult to cope with. Adoption UK’s Better Futures report found that a third of adopted young people who started a college course within one year of leaving school were unable to complete it. A similar proportion were not in education, employment or training (NEET) at some point between the ages of 16 and 24 – three times the national average. 

More than half of those surveyed (all aged 16-plus), said they lacked confidence about their academic ability while at college.  More than half of them found the college environment overwhelming, even threatening; while there, the majority had neither a mentor or key worker, nor access to counselling or wellbeing services.

Children and young people with learning disabilities are more than four times more likely to have a mental health problem, and frequently experience difficulties with transitions in their care and their education (Children and Young People’s Mental Health Coalition, 2019).

Issues for Post-16 Policy Makers

Education providers need to understand that good mental health contributes to better educational outcomes.  

Poor mental health can affect students’ ability to learn, and treatment is not the only answer.  We also need a strong focus on prevention: tackling the causes of poor mental health and responding to problems much sooner, before they become disabling and severe.  While learning can be very positive for mental wellbeing and later employment, it can also worsen mental health problems, and sometimes cause them. 

The education system should maximise students’ wellbeing and resilience and minimise risks. The DfE should review how the current post-16 system supports or undermines wellbeing for all children and young people, including those with learning disabilities and autism (e.g. considering how children are tested), and make changes where indicated.

Every student in school, further and higher education should receive appropriate mental health literacy lessons at each stage of their education and have access to early support through their education provider.  

All providers should adopt a ‘whole school/college/ university’ approach to mental health, including mental health training for staff, something many lack (Mental Health Foundation, 2018; Education and Training Foundation, 2018). The Open University has developed a micro-credential for education professionals on embedding mental health in the curriculum and designing appropriate learning activities that are conducive to students’ mental health.

The DfE should develop guidance for post-16 education providers on providing trauma-informed approaches to support young people returning to education settings post-pandemic who may have been bereaved or had other very difficult experiences during the lockdown.  This is important for both their mental health and their learning. 

We urgently need to build a workforce that reflects the diversity of people who use services, and action to create a psychologically-informed NHS workforce able to provide people with whole-person care.  Action is needed to consider how new roles can bring people with relevant skills into the sector, especially peer support workers, employment specialists, and care navigators.  The Interim NHS People Plan was published in June 2019. The final plan is expected in autumn 2020.

Lucy Thorpe, Head of Policy, Mental Health Foundation

'Revolutionary Forces'

In the immediate aftermath of the Covid-19 pandemic, it is easy to forget that there were wider revolutionary forces at work on the UK’s economy before the virus outbreak.

With issues such as Brexit, the rise of automation in the workplace, longer working lives, and poor UK productivity brought into even sharper focus, education and skills organisations, NCFE and Campaign for Learning (CfL), jointly commissioned the ‘Revolutionary Forces’ discussion paper.

Published on 6 July 2020, the collection of articles, penned by experts from the FE sector, as well as labour market economics, employment and mental health, urges Government to ensure that the plans outlined in the forthcoming post-16 white paper are sufficiently flexible to meet the immense changes faced by the UK economy throughout the 2020s. The authors explore some of the key challenges facing the nation throughout the 2020s which the DfE needs to take into consideration when writing their recommendations:

The authors are:

You may also be interested in these articles:

Advertisers

Latest Education News

Further Education News

The FE News Channel gives you the latest education news and updates on emerging education strategies and the #FutureofEducation and the #FutureofWork.

Providing trustworthy and positive Further Education news and views since 2003, we are a digital news channel with a mixture of written word articles, podcasts and videos. Our specialisation is providing you with a mixture of the latest education news, our stance is always positive, sector building and sharing different perspectives and views from thought leaders, to provide you with a think tank of new ideas and solutions to bring the education sector together and come up with new innovative solutions and ideas.

FE News publish exclusive peer to peer thought leadership articles from our feature writers, as well as user generated content across our network of over 3000 Newsrooms, offering multiple sources of the latest education news across the Education and Employability sectors.

FE News also broadcast live events, podcasts with leading experts and thought leaders, webinars, video interviews and Further Education news bulletins so you receive the latest developments in Skills News and across the Apprenticeship, Further Education and Employability sectors.

Every week FE News has over 200 articles and new pieces of content per week. We are a news channel providing the latest Further Education News, giving insight from multiple sources on the latest education policy developments, latest strategies, through to our thought leaders who provide blue sky thinking strategy, best practice and innovation to help look into the future developments for education and the future of work.

In May 2020, FE News had over 120,000 unique visitors according to Google Analytics and over 200 new pieces of news content every week, from thought leadership articles, to the latest education news via written word, podcasts, video to press releases from across the sector.

We thought it would be helpful to explain how we tier our latest education news content and how you can get involved and understand how you can read the latest daily Further Education news and how we structure our FE Week of content:

Main Features

Our main features are exclusive and are thought leadership articles and blue sky thinking with experts writing peer to peer news articles about the future of education and the future of work. The focus is solution led thought leadership, sharing best practice, innovation and emerging strategy. These are often articles about the future of education and the future of work, they often then create future education news articles. We limit our main features to a maximum of 20 per week, as they are often about new concepts and new thought processes. Our main features are also exclusive articles responding to the latest education news, maybe an insight from an expert into a policy announcement or response to an education think tank report or a white paper.

FE Voices

FE Voices was originally set up as a section on FE News to give a voice back to the sector. As we now have over 3,000 newsrooms and contributors, FE Voices are usually thought leadership articles, they don’t necessarily have to be exclusive, but usually are, they are slightly shorter than Main Features. FE Voices can include more mixed media with the Further Education News articles, such as embedded podcasts and videos. Our sector response articles asking for different comments and opinions to education policy announcements or responding to a report of white paper are usually held in the FE Voices section. If we have a live podcast in an evening or a radio show such as SkillsWorldLive radio show, the next morning we place the FE podcast recording in the FE Voices section.

Sector News

In sector news we have a blend of content from Press Releases, education resources, reports, education research, white papers from a range of contributors. We have a lot of positive education news articles from colleges, awarding organisations and Apprenticeship Training Providers, press releases from DfE to Think Tanks giving the overview of a report, through to helpful resources to help you with delivering education strategies to your learners and students.

Podcasts

We have a range of education podcasts on FE News, from hour long full production FE podcasts such as SkillsWorldLive in conjunction with the Federation of Awarding Bodies, to weekly podcasts from experts and thought leaders, providing advice and guidance to leaders. FE News also record podcasts at conferences and events, giving you one on one podcasts with education and skills experts on the latest strategies and developments.

We have over 150 education podcasts on FE News, ranging from EdTech podcasts with experts discussing Education 4.0 and how technology is complimenting and transforming education, to podcasts with experts discussing education research, the future of work, how to develop skills systems for jobs of the future to interviews with the Apprenticeship and Skills Minister.

We record our own exclusive FE News podcasts, work in conjunction with sector partners such as FAB to create weekly podcasts and daily education podcasts, through to working with sector leaders creating exclusive education news podcasts.

Education Video Interviews

FE News have over 700 FE Video interviews and have been recording education video interviews with experts for over 12 years. These are usually vox pop video interviews with experts across education and work, discussing blue sky thinking ideas and views about the future of education and work.

Events

FE News has a free events calendar to check out the latest conferences, webinars and events to keep up to date with the latest education news and strategies.

FE Newsrooms

The FE Newsroom is home to your content if you are a FE News contributor. It also help the audience develop relationship with either you as an individual or your organisation as they can click through and ‘box set’ consume all of your previous thought leadership articles, latest education news press releases, videos and education podcasts.

Do you want to contribute, share your ideas or vision or share a press release?

If you want to write a thought leadership article, share your ideas and vision for the future of education or the future of work, write a press release sharing the latest education news or contribute to a podcast, first of all you need to set up a FE Newsroom login (which is free): once the team have approved your newsroom (all content, newsrooms are all approved by a member of the FE News team- no robots are used in this process!), you can then start adding content (again all articles, videos and podcasts are all approved by the FE News editorial team before they go live on FE News). As all newsrooms and content are approved by the FE News team, there will be a slight delay on the team being able to review and approve content.

 RSS IconRSS Feed Selection Page