Children as young as three with mental health problems in Walsall
Exam stress, problems at home, anxiety, depression, social media pressures and a lack of family time.
These are among the reasons given as to why Walsall school children as young as three might be suffering from mental health problems.
Back in March, a children’s services scrutiny meeting was told that there had been a 28 per cent increase in referrals for core services provided by child and adolescent mental health services (CAMHS) since 2017.
But a school ambassador scheme, which sees primary and secondary pupils volunteer to support classmates in distress, has been hailed a success in helping support young people.
The town’s outgoing mayor and mayoress – Councillor Marco Longhi and his wife Andrea – had chosen to support small Walsall charity WPH Counselling and, as part of that, set schools a challenge of raising awareness and cash for the cause.
Pupils responded with a host of events, including car washes, samosa sales, non-uniform days and Easter Egg hunts, which have raked in thousands for the charity.
Councillor Longhi held a celebration event for schools involved in the scheme, on the eve of Mental Health Awareness Week, and said he was delighted with its success, but added more support was needed for young people.
He said: “Mental health has always been such a huge priority for me for many, many years before it became more visible with other politicians.
“I’m delighted there has been a shift not just with schools but in society in general and hope future governments will resource NHS services and charities – the third sector does an enormous amount. There is a huge demand for support for young people out there.
“Children today face a completely different set of pressures than when I was a child.
“The pressures are much greater, the pace of learning is much greater, parents sometimes have to hold down two or three different jobs.
“And parents themselves, just like children, are quite often taken up with phones and on social media or doing work even when they are at home.
“It is very easy to forget that a young person whether they be three years old, five years old or 15, needs your time. If they can’t get that one-to-one and that family environment, they’ll go on their gadgets and social media.”
Hillary Primary School teacher Stacey Roberts said they run relaxation clubs to help stressed children.
She said: “Every child is supported, right from nursery to Year 6 because they will all find problems at different ages. We’ve put relaxation clubs on during SATS. We find that children need that down time.
“We are in an area where there is a lot of poverty. We don’t have a library, we don’t have a youth centre, we don’t have much or a park and there isn’t really anywhere for the children to express themselves.
“So even if we can only do little things, we try to do as many of those little things as possible just to make a big impact.”
Parent Donna Allen, whose nine-year-old daughter Willow is an ambassador at Cooper and Jordan School in Aldridge, said the scheme has given those taking part a huge boost.
Mrs Allen, a teacher herself in Great Barr, said: “I think it’s been really good as it has built the ambassadors’ confidence up as well and also highlighted that even within schools, young children have got anxiety issues that need addressing.
“Hopefully, by having a figurehead in the school that children who have issues can go to, they know they can seek a bit of help.
“As a teacher myself, I see anxiety about exams or possibly things going on at home that they feel they can’t talk to parents about but come into school and seek help there.
“Generally, it is recognising that children do have mental health issues and if you can spot it when they are young and put in the interventions and obviously it will help make them stable adults.”
Queen Mary’s Grammar School ambassadors Ameen Mahmood and Kamran Khan, both aged 17, have been working on an outreach programme which saw them give talks to primary school pupils across Walsall.
Kamran said: “There are cases coming out that there are primary school children suffering from mental illness.
“You go into year groups and the whole year has a phone and they are accessing social media so it’s a massive problem.
“I think the programme has had a massive impact on young people in primary and secondary schools, got people talking about mental health – raising awareness and money as well.”