Inquiry Launched into Mental Health Education and Early Intervention in Schools

An inquiry into mental health services in settings that work with young people here has been launched by an All Party Group (APG), supported by the mental health charity MindWise.

Recent statistics show rates of mental illness in the youth population are approximately 25% higher in Northern Ireland compared to England. This is according to the 2020 Youth Wellbeing Prevalence Study, which also estimated that one in 10 young people here has an oppositional defiant disorder, one in 20 has a conduct disorder and one in eight meets the criteria for any mood or anxiety disorder, yet mental health provision and training for those in youth settings, including schools, is minimal or non-existent.

Sinn Fein MLA Pádraig Delargy is Chair of the All Party Group. He said: “The education system is in a unique position to promote mental health amongst  

children and young people. “Many of our children and young people encounter challenges in their lives yet a study which focused on mental health provision across 10 EU countries found that support was mainly focuses on pupils with diagnosed disorders in what is a reactive rather than preventative approach. “The aim of the inquiry conducted by the All Party Group will be to fully understand how the mental wellbeing of our young people is assessed and supported while delving into practices currently in place. Interventions to develop emotional understanding and build resilience can provide vital tools to enable them to overcome and thrive.”  

Anne Doherty of MindWise, which acts as the secretariat for the APG, said: “Efforts to decrease exposure to early adversities while limiting and supporting those already displaying symptoms must span all sectors interacting with young people, including education. This inquiry aims to examine current provisions of Mental Health Education and Early Intervention across educational settings including schools, homeschooling environments, children and young people units and other educational centres in Northern Ireland.”

The inquiry will consider associated issues, including and not limited to resources provided by the Department of Education and the Education Authority, community and voluntary provisions, and self-funded offerings within education.

It will gauge and inform on the funding available to educational settings for mental health interventions including PE, the arts, resilience training, and programmes that aim to prevent stress and anxiety.

To carry out the inquiry APG is calling for written evidence that addresses the latter points. It is also inviting interested parties and individuals to attend a series of oral evidence sessions that will commence in February 2023.

This includes mental health professionals, educationalists, advocacy group representatives, academics, departmental officials and young people.

Concluding the inquiry will be a report based on the evidence gathered. This will include policy recommendations. The inquiry is open until Friday 3 February 2023 and for further information or to make a submission to the inquiry, please email [email protected]

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