Understanding Depression and Anxiety in Children

01st December 2017

‘Teenagers struck by depression epidemic’ appeared as a headline in a recent edition of The Times. Reading behind the headlines, the facts make for a depressing read:

  • Half of all adult mental health issues manifest by the age of 14 and 75% by the age of 18 (Murphy and Fonagy, 2012)

  • Anxiety is the most frequent mental disorder in young people and the median age of onset is just 6 years old (Merikangas, 2010)

  • 1 in 4 girls is depressed by the age of 14. (The Millennium Cohort Study)

The costs of anxiety go beyond a debilitating distraction at school. Studies have shown that it negatively affects self esteem, school learning, stress tolerance, motivation and relationships (Maldonado, 2013 and Layard, 2015). Unaddressed and unchallenged, adolescent mental health issues develop into wider societal problems - current estimates suggest a £70 -105 billion cost annually to UK society (DOH, 2014). In short, improving mental health early in life reduces inequalities, improves physical health, reduces health risk behaviour and increases life expectancy, economic productivity, social functioning and quality of life.

We all have a part to play in responding to this health challenge. As a school, much work continues to take place in supporting the mental health needs of our pupils. Oft widely  quoted but arguably less frequently applied, wellbeing may be defined as ‘flourishing, not coping’. Our PSHE programme, including wellbeing enrichment lessons in Lower School, aims to teach resilience. Our focus on relationships, channeling positive emotion and celebrating each individual all have a part to play in developing resilience. The role of Head of Wellbeing is central in leading  this but so too are the conversations that happen daily between teachers and pupils and parents. Early intervention is important when dealing with any illness and, for example, our use of pupils as role models and informal counselling all have a part to play in school. There is also much that can be achieved at home - for instance, studies have shown that a good diet, physical activity, sleep and, of course, positive behaviour and role models all help to counter anxiety and stress.

Of most importance is raising awareness and starting the conversations when you notice physical or emotional changes in your son / daughter - perhaps, mood changes, dietary concerns or overuse of electronics at the expense of meeting and interacting with friends in person. All of the pupils have wellbeing business sized cards with some useful websites as well as contact details of the Head of Wellbeing. Please do get in touch should you have unanswered questions.

Mr L Collins


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