Transforming mental health in schools and colleges: the impact of COVID-19

The Royal Society of Medicine and the mental health charity Mind are inviting clinicians, researchers, teachers, parents, and young people to gather at an online conference hosted on Thursday 22 April from 10.00am to 5.30pm to explore how lockdown has affected mental health in UK schools.

Speakers at the conference will examine the impact of COVID-19 on the policy aspirations of the 2017 government initiative Transforming Children and Young People’s Mental Health Provision – a Green Paper and debate how mental health interventions can be implemented in schools to provide earlier access to care.

The programme will include sessions on the impact of the pandemic on the mental health of children and young people; the short and long-term consequences of lockdown on vulnerable children; and whether COVID-19 provides an argument to abolish exams. The conference will end with experts debating the motion: This house believes that COVID-19 has made it essential to shift the balance away from later to earlier intervention in mental health.

Key speakers at the conference will include Paul Farmer, chief executive, Mind; Amanda Spielman, Her Majesty’s chief inspector, Ofsted; Geoff Barton, general secretary, Association of School and College Leaders; The Right Honourable Lord Baker of Dorking CH, former Secretary of State for Education and chairman, Baker Dearing Educational Trust; Stephen Scott, Professor of Child Health and Behaviour, Institute of Psychiatry, Psychology and Neuroscience, Kings College London; and Sir Simon Wessely, professor of psychological medicine and Regius Professor of Psychiatry, King’s College London.

Dr Jacqueline Phillips Owen, consultant child and adolescent psychiatrist and chair of the conference steering group, said: “The disruptions in the way we work, learn and socialise are accompanied by a potential mental health crisis among our children and young people, with significant consequences for their teachers and school staff.

“This conference will be exploring the important policy issues that must be considered if long-term mental health consequences are to be avoided in our younger population.”

Paul Farmer, chief executive of Mind, said: “We’re excited to be part of this important and timely conference. We know that high levels of poor mental health and problems accessing mental health services were a problem for many children and young people even before the pandemic, and that coronavirus has disproportionately affected younger people.

“Research carried out by Mind during the initial lockdown found three in four (75 per cent) young people aged 13-24 with an existing mental health problem reported worse mental health, compared to nearly two in three (60 per cent) adults.

“Over the past year, our young people have faced a whole load of additional challenges, including school closures, loneliness and isolation, and the knock-on effect of the recession causing problems for families such as debt, unemployment, housing and access to benefits.

“Last September, Mind invited young people, their families or guardians, and education and mental health professionals in England to feed into our Education Inquiry. By listening to people’s experiences, we hope to better understand the key issues within the education system.

“Using the findings we’ll be making a series of recommendations to government about how they can improve the provision of mental health and wellbeing support within secondary schools, to make sure every young person experiencing a mental health problem gets the help they deserve.”

Follow this link to see the full conference programme and registration details. The conference is the first in a series of three events examining the impact of the pandemic on schools and colleges. The second webinar, on Wednesday 5 May, will explore the experiences of children and young people from ethnic minority backgrounds during the COVID-19 pandemic. The third event on Wednesday 12 May will explore how the mental health of teachers and school staff have been impacted by pandemic school closures, subsequent re-openings, and the pressures of delivering education in unprecedented circumstances.

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