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Cyber-bullying, self harm and lack of sleep among issues faced by Suffolk’s schoolchildren, report reveals

PUBLISHED: 00:01 02 November 2017 | UPDATED: 08:06 02 November 2017

Healthwatch Suffolk has found school pressures are causing young people stress. Picture: GETTY IMAGES/ISTOCK PHOTO

Healthwatch Suffolk has found school pressures are causing young people stress. Picture: GETTY IMAGES/ISTOCK PHOTO

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The state of children’s mental health in Suffolk has been revealed in a startling new report released today.

Andy Yacoub, chief executive of Healthwatch Suffolk. Picture: GREGG BROWN Andy Yacoub, chief executive of Healthwatch Suffolk. Picture: GREGG BROWN

Healthwatch Suffolk has gathered the views of more than 6,800 people aged 11-18 from eight schools across the county, questioning them on issues such as sleep, self-harm and cyber-bullying.

In response to the concerning results, the watchdog is calling for greater mental health support to be provided in Suffolk schools.

Key findings of the ‘My Health, Our Future: Understanding Children and Young People’s Mental Health’ study include:

• 15% of respondents have previously self-harmed;

The launch of Stay Safe Online, which is working to tackle issues like cyber-bullying among young people. Left to right, Gordon Jones, Rachel Kearton, Tim Passmore, Terry Hunt, Emma Bond and Stephen Singleton. Picture: GREGG BROWN The launch of Stay Safe Online, which is working to tackle issues like cyber-bullying among young people. Left to right, Gordon Jones, Rachel Kearton, Tim Passmore, Terry Hunt, Emma Bond and Stephen Singleton. Picture: GREGG BROWN

• One in 10 had been a victim of cyber-bullying in the last two months;

• One in 10 11-year-olds and six in 10 16-year-olds get less than six hours sleep on a school night;

• Three out of five girls and one in four boys worry about their appearance and/or body image ‘most or all of the time’;

• One in three girls and just over one in 10 boys rated their day-to-day self-esteem as either ‘poor’ or ‘very poor’.

Eugene Staunton, associate director of transformation for NHS Ipswich and East Suffolk and NHS West Suffolk clinical commissioning groups. Picture: CONTRIBUTED Eugene Staunton, associate director of transformation for NHS Ipswich and East Suffolk and NHS West Suffolk clinical commissioning groups. Picture: CONTRIBUTED

Despite the prevalence of wellbeing issues, the report shows 45% of respondents do not know where they can turn for support when they are struggling.

Furthermore, 45% of young students do not think they have been taught about mental health in school – this increased to 60% by the age of 18.

Educational pressures such as exams and revision are having a substantial impact on the wellbeing of Suffolk’s young learners, the research shows.

A massive 85% of those interviewed identified school-related factors as a source of stress.

Cyber-bullying is a problem this newspaper is campaigning to tackle by backing Stay Safe Online, an initiative launched this summer to expose the digital threats facing young people in Suffolk.

Healthwatch Suffolk has made a number of recommendations to the authorities working with young people in Suffolk in reaction to the findings of this report.

These include the need for better signposting, improved engagement with schools around the subject of mental health and increased funding targeted at prevention. The organisation also wants to see all secondary schools offered training and development and for the voices of children and young people to be promoted throughout health and education systems.

The report was commissioned as part of the work going on by health and education leaders to deliver the Suffolk Emotional Wellbeing Transformation Plan (EWB2020), which sets out how children and young people’s mental health services will be improved in the county by 2020.

Andy Yacoub, chief executive of Healthwatch Suffolk, said: “We all have school in common from an early age.

“Actions taken in school can have a big impact on a student’s wellbeing, not just in the short term but also throughout their lives.

“In particular, secondary school spans a crucial juncture and often challenging transition into physical and social maturity.

“Our report sets out why recognising the emotional health needs of young people and taking steps to meet those needs at this stage is of the utmost importance.

“We have made several recommendations to local schools and commissioners within Suffolk County Council and our local clinical commissioning groups. This includes engaging secondary schools on all aspects of the EWB2020.

“This must start with preparing schools to better manage the emotional wellbeing needs of children and young people by increasing funding of tier one support, improved workforce development within schools and ensuring young people are more aware of the support available to them.

“The fact our project was co-produced with school pupils, and that these recommendations have been agreed with the commissioners involved, leaves me to believe that they will be acted on, and that change of a positive nature will come about that will benefit all of our children and young people in the future.”

Eugene Staunton, associate director of transformation for Ipswich and East Suffolk and West Suffolk NHS clinical commissioning groups, said the findings of the report were “concerning and encouraging in equal measure”, and added the recommendations would be woven into the transformation plan.

Wellbeing hub

A key part of Suffolk’s transformation plan is to open a wellbeing hub for children and their families.

The centre was originally earmarked for launch at Landmark House in Ipswich in December, but it was delayed to April 2018 due to recruitment problems.

Eugene Staunton, of Ipswich and East Suffolk and West Suffolk NHS clinical commissioning groups, said: “A manager and a number of the emotional wellbeing practitioners have already been appointed and we are looking at concluding the recruitment process soon.

“Development of the job descriptions and the interviews has been done with families and young people to ensure the new team has the required knowledge, skills, values and approach.

“We are also exploring how families and young people with lived experience can also provide a peer support role and be integral to the team, both in responding to contacts and also supporting the development of the team.”

Support available

There is already a wealth of support available in Suffolk for young people struggling with poor mental health.

Suffolk Young People’s Health Project, also knows as 4YP, is a charity based in Ipswich and offers drop-in and group sessions, one-to-one help and a live online chat service.

The Kernos Centre, a charity based in Sudbury, provides counselling for young people.

The NHS can also help.

Young people can speak to their GP about any problems they are facing.

Anyone over the age of 16 can also self-refer to the Suffolk Wellbeing Service, run by Norfolk and Suffolk NHS Foundation Trust, which can offer counselling and workshops.

Most schools will have an nurse who can offer help and advice.

There are also a number of self-help recourses online, in books and via mobile phone apps that can be beneficial.

For those in crisis, the Samaritans runs a 24-hour free support phone line on 116 123.

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