Louisa Rose of children’s mental health charity Beyond, discusses the lack of mental health services for school children.
That the pandemic has caused an upset in the lives of school children is irrefutable. They were left accessing school online, bound to their homes, and without the in-person interaction they relied upon to maintain relationships. Now, current figures indicate that 30% of all young people who relied upon mental health services before the pandemic, lost access to those services once the pandemic began. “Because of the isolation and the loneliness the pandemic caused, issues such as anxiety and depression and self-harm all became much worse,” Louisa Rose, Jewish co-founder of mental health charity Beyond explained.
“Young people have really borne the brunt of the pandemic’s impact on mental health. Many who didn’t have a pre-existing mental health condition now have one. This means that referrals to mental health services are the highest level they’ve ever been, and the system is just not built to cope with that number of referrals. What we’re seeing is something like a bottleneck. Schools started to take the strain as young people weren’t able to access support from the support services or from their own social group. So teachers became the ones that were the first responders. And schools aren’t set up to deal with that.”
Beyond offers completely bespoke mental health festivals to schools to help ease the strain they’re under: “I was actually part of Beyond’s youth board, and I pitched what became the UK’s first ever mental health and wellbeing festival for schools,” Louisa said. “The reason why it’s so special is because we did it with absolutely no budget, with 50 volunteer organisers. Most of those volunteers were from the Beyond youth board. These festivals managed to reach half a million students and teachers. One of the key ways we did that was by building a national network of mental health services for young people. Those providers in the database delivered free workshops at the festivals to schools in their local areas. We also created the first UK online database that can connect educators with mental health provisions.
“There is support out there, but what’s plentiful is third-sector and private services, which isn’t an option for some people. In terms of government-funded provision, they’re fairly thin on the ground. Not because they don’t exist, but because they haven’t got the capacity to handle the number of treatment requests. The third-sector organisations are struggling as well, because their normal funding stream has dried up during the pandemic. Take us for example, we are desperately trying to raise £500,000 for a fund which goes directly into schools. Every single pound that comes into that fund goes straight into a school as soon as it hits us, because they’re that desperate for it. But we are nowhere near our goal because the funding streams have dried up. The provisions are there, but the lack of funding means that not everyone that needs them can access them.
Even with these issues, there is help available, and it’s important that young people know how to access it: “One of the big things we ask young people to do is to tell someone if they’re struggling. So that could a trusted adult, it could be a friend, it could be a GP. It’s important they know that they should tell someone, because they’re not alone. We really want to empower the younger generation to know where to signpost their friend who tells them they’re struggling, or to know where to access support themselves. One of the best services we advocate is text-based support. If they text the word “beyond” to 85258, any younger person will have a free responder who will answer their conversation request 24 hours a day, providing immediate mental health support. It’s all via text, which young people quite like because there’s an anonymity to it. It’s powered by Shout, which is a phenomenal organisation. It’s such a powerful service to know because it really can be lifesaving.”
To find out more about Beyond’s mental health festival for schools and colleges, or to donate to Beyond’s urgent pandemic relief fund, visit Wearebeyond.org.uk