A new joint parliamentary select committee inquiry, into how education can help prevent mental health problems among young people, will look at issues faced by college students.
MPs from both the education and health committees will look at how a broad range of education providers, including colleges, can help prevent, or minimise problems through early intervention.
This will include looking into how teachers and other professionals can be trained to recognise signs of mental illness and support pupils when problems occur.
It comes after Ian Ashman, Association of Colleges president, announced in November that he would dedicate his term in office to tackling what he described as the “massive increase” in mental health support needs of college students.
The inquiry, which has been welcomed by the YoungMinds charity, will also look into how far social media and the internet, through cyber building and peer pressure, contributes to such issues among young people.
Neil Carmichael MP (pictured above), chair of the education committee, said: “The undoubted increase in the number of young people suffering from mental health issues is extremely alarming.
“Children are not able to access the services and get the help they need at an early stage. Some only receive support from under pressure mental health services once their condition has worsened.”
He said that colleges have a “key part” to play in tackling this problem, and the joint committee will examine what their role – alongside schools – should be.
“It could be providing better access to counselling, promoting responsible social media use and training teachers to spot early warning signs, for example.
“But they cannot be expected to do this alone, so we will also be considering what support and resources these education settings will need if they are to successfully boost the emotional wellbeing of pupils and prevent the development of mental health issues.”
Dr Sarah Wollaston MP, chair of the Health Committee, said: “In the last Parliament I chaired an inquiry into children’s and adolescents’ mental health services.
“The service has long been seriously underfunded and is unable to meet demand, leaving many young people without the help they need. Lack of timely help means that young people can sometimes only access help when they have become seriously unwell.”
Sarah Brennan, chief executive of YoungMinds warned of the “huge range of pressures” faced by students.
This, she explained, ranged for example from exam pressures to body image worries and “bullying and around-the-clock social media”.
“These pressures can take their toll on the mental health of young people with wider impacts on their education and wellbeing,” she added. “Childhood and teenage years are a critical period of development. So a child with good mental health is much more likely to have good mental health as an adult.
Mr Ashman welcomed the inquiry, and said: “We are pleased to see that the Education Select Committee is launching an inquiry into the role of education supporting young people to help prevent mental health problems.
“Colleges are perfectly placed to help local NHS services to tackle issues of mental health, but sadly this opportunity is not taken up equally across the country. There is a postcode lottery in whether the local NHS trusts make use of colleges to support their work, but where it is done, it’s very successful.
“Supporting young people with mental health issues can be a very sensitive issue but colleges also promote wellbeing across their campuses to help all students to develop resilience and be prepared for whatever life throws at them.”
The committees are inviting written submissions on the following via the inquiry webpage:
- Promoting emotional wellbeing, building resilience, and establishing and protecting good mental health
- Support for young people with mental health problems
- Building skills for professionals
- Social media and the internet