MindEd - a new e-learning resource
Whilst awareness around mental health has improved enormously over the years, there is still much greater understanding, funding and development for physical health.
Imagine a school playground. A child has fallen over. An adult rushes over to help and finds that the scraped elbow they were expecting to see is actually a very swollen, bruised wrist. Caution kicks in and the child is taken to hospital, in case their wrist is broken.
That same caution, however, rarely applies when children have mental health problems. Signs or symptoms such as bad behaviour, hyperactivity or a lack of interest in things are often dismissed as ‘just how they are’ or ‘it’s just a phase they’re going through’. In some cases this might be true, but in others these behaviours could be an indicator of a mental health problem. We wouldn’t dismiss a possible broken wrist or an asthma attack so easily, or say it’s ‘it’s just a phase’.
Yet half of all diagnosable mental health conditions start before the age of 14, and so identifying children at the earliest opportunity is crucial in setting them on the best path in life.
Not doing so can cost them their education, harm their relationships with friends or family, and put them at future risk of alcohol and drug misuse, self-harm and neglect. In extreme cases, it can even cost them their life.
In a recent survey carried out by the MindEd Consortium – a group of child and adolescent mental health experts in the UK – more than a third of adults said they wouldn’t know how to identify a child battling a mental health condition. Just over half said they would be worried about approaching a child or its parent about a mental health problem in case they were mistaken.
With well over 20 different mental health conditions and many different signs and symptoms, I’m not expecting everyone to become doctors or psychologists. But if every adult who works with children and young people spent just a short time brushing up on the common presentations, such as unexplained weight loss and drastic change in behaviour or personality, potentially thousands of children could be supported to go on to lead much healthier and happier lives.
This is where MindEd can help.
Funded by the UK government’s Department of Health, MindEd is a website which contains free advice, information and e-learning on child and adolescent mental health. It aims to give any adult who works with young people the skills to support wellbeing and to identify a child at risk of a mental health condition early. It can give people the confidence to act on their concern and, if needed, can direct them to services that can help.
MindEd is quality assured and provides a considerable range of 20-30minute e-learning packages, individually tailored to each audience group – teachers and sports coaches, healthcare professionals, police and judiciary staff, social workers and many more. The aim is to give people understandable information wherever and whenever they need it, and although the content has been written for UK-based professionals and volunteers, much of the content will be relevant in other countries.
It will take time to get people thinking about mental health in the same way they do physical health – there’s no magic wand that’s going to change attitudes and awareness overnight. MindEd alone isn’t the answer, but it is a reliable tool and if every adult who comes into contact with children uses it, the gap between mental and physical health provision will soon start to close.