Mental Health and Addiction our Children and Schools

Last September, not for the first time and definitely not for the last time, I got my arse in my hand (Definition –  to be in a bad mood, to be p-ssed off about something. “he’s back! – and this time he’s got his -rs- in his hand”) about what I was seeing day after day about our children’s and young peoples mental health.

I boiled over and sent the following email to Anne Longfield, who at the time of my email (10th September 2020) was The Children’s Commissioner for England.

The current Children’s Commissioner for England is Dame Rachel de Souza, on the 16th March I wrote to her and enclosed a copy of my email.

Since then I have sent the following email to number of MP’s and various other people I’ve seen talking about our children’s and young people’s mental wellbeing.

Unsurprisingly I haven’t received a single reply….

FAO Anne Longfield 

Hi Giles, Jo and whoever checks the info request email account, I hope you are all having good weeks and staying safe and healthy.

Hi Anne I hope you are well also, I would imagine you are quite busy at the moment, but I hope you will find some time to read my email because I think I could help you and your team in quite a significant way….

There’s no point in being shy when trying to make contact with a person of importance, like your good self 😉

Over the Covid period I’ve seen you on the news quite a few times calling for counsellors to be in all schools and my reaction every single time has been…

 “yeah right that will never happen”

I agree probably not the best way to start an email by criticising what you are passionately calling for.

So I googled you and your call for counsellors to be in all schools and found a piece on the subject from January 2016 and again with my negative thoughts….

 “just shows how quickly really really important things don’t get done”

Over the last couple of years I’ve been into 3 local schools and through a project called “Mental Health Impact Day” run by Invictus Education Trust spoken to sixth form students from another 5 schools, to each of the 3 main schools I’ve been to I’ve been back twice.

From my lived experience of addiction and mental illness I speak to the students openly and honestly about my experiences in a way no professional counsellor could ever do, because I am just me, Jon Mansell aka exboozehound.

I have no governing body or establishment red tape so I can talk totally openly and honestly. I can talk about my real experiences of mental illness beginning around the age of 16 with depression and anxiety mixed in with self medicating, with in the main alcohol but also drugs…. real and relatable talk and conversations…. 

Locally since I had my mental breakdown in 2013 I’ve done a lot of work with many local agencies including the NHS, council, MP’s, Adult Social Care, Healthwatch Dudley, West Midlands Combined Authority and many more so there are many people who can vouch for my effectiveness as a Mental Health and Addiction Warrior or a Life Experience Warrior.

I’m very proud to of received a number of awards in recognition of the work I have done including winning West Midlands Combined Authority’s “Dudley Mental Health Star” and being a runner up to Mary Stevens Hospice in “The Mayors “Pride of Dudley” award in 2018.

About a year ago I was at an advent and got talking to someone from Public Health, I told them about the various schools I had been into and the great feedback, we spoke about my plans to get into more schools in the near future and about having their support to help me get into more schools, the conversation seemed to be very positive.

However, when we began speak via email I started to get the standard “we have these plans in place”, “we can’t recommend any individual to schools” etc etc and the line that “everything was in place to deal with children’s emotional health & well being and mental health is within the PSHE curriculum”….

Public Health also advised me that “a survey they do every 2 years in schools, asking who they would like to speak to them about various issues, shows children and young people want to speak to their parents most, followed by friends and then school staff”. I disagree with this because of 4 questions I have asked in various sessions at a number of schools….

1. If you were concerned about mental illness or addiction would you speak to your teachers?

2. If you were concerned about mental illness or addiction would you speak to your tutor teacher?

3. If you were concerned about mental illness or addiction would you speak to your school nurse?

4. If you were concerned about mental illness or addiction would you speak to me? 

I think you know where this is going….

Questions 1, 2 & 3 received a majority answer of “No”

Question 4 received a majority answer of “Yes”

From my experience since 2013 one of the things I have come across again and again in all different situations is that “we” the people don’t trust authority so we don’t speak to the authority. One of the reasons people are very willing to speak to me is I’m quite obviously nothing to do with authority. 

With the right things in place I could be the middle man between the youngsters and the authority making sure they are ready to speak openly about their issues before they’re introduced to medication, counselling and talking therapies etc.

I know I can make a real difference with our children and young adults with my lived experiences of mental illness and addiction and stop some of our youngsters having to live the, at times, horrendous life I’ve lived.

Although I started this email being negative in my response to seeing you on the news calling for counsellors in all schools I am now going to agree with a lot of things you said in this article from January 2016….

I know I was surprised I agreed with you as well…!

Article by Helen Ward on on the 6th January 2016 entitled….

Put Counsellors in all schools, say Children’s Commissioner

But the commissioner pointed out that such a programme should not just be about “plonking individuals in schools and waiting for children to knock on doors.”

My Thoughts – Permanent counsellors plonked into schools automatically become part of the school establishment and therefore as a child or young adult very uncool to be seen talking to, if students are having problems with mental health issues and perhaps experimenting with drink or drugs they will not be able to talk to the counsellor that is part of the school establishment for fear of getting into trouble.

“There is a real issue about anxiety,” she added. “It is a barometer of health for children. And children are clearly saying that before we get to the stage of a diagnosed mental health condition we want some help with anxiety and we want that to be in schools.”

My Thoughts – Talking about “Mental Illness” is a lot more accepted these days with less stigma attached to it than there was, but there is still too much stigma around and I believe strongly there is a huge need for a distinction between “anxiety and depression” and “mental illness”.

I’ve had depression in my life since my teens, I was first prescribed antidepressants when I was about 16. Over the years I saw my GP many many times and even when I knew I was more than “just depressed” I was never fully honest with my GP as I didn’t want to be labelled as “Mentally Ill” so I just went through life going from episode to episode, self medicating with booze.

When I was in my late 20’s I had another really low episode and ended up speaking with a counsellor via my GP, his name was Sean Lyttle, it doesn’t matter how, but I knew of Sean and I knew he’d had his own issues with drugs.

Eventually Sean said to me “unless we do something about your drinking we are never going to be able to deal with your depression” .I ended up in rehab for a 28 day stay. I was 29 when I went into Woodbourne Priory Hospital in Birmingham in 2003.

Starting on antidepressants when I was 16 and going into rehab at the age of 29 is 13 years I still to this day sometimes see as 13 years wasted. I had a mental breakdown in 2013 because I still didn’t address my mental health issues properly, another 10 years wasted. Since my mental breakdown I was initially diagnosed with BPD and then Bipolar, 23 years wasted….

I know I’m being a bit dramatic saying 23 years wasted but the point is if I had spoken to someone like myself back when I was 16 and was spoken to as honestly and openly as I speak about my mental illness and addiction my life could of been so much more enjoyable and a lot less horrendous. I know I can help children and young adults avoid living a horrendous life if I get to speak with them early enough

“Children and young people time and time again tell me that they would like to have people to talk to in schools.” 

My Thoughts – Children should definitely have people they can talk to in schools and those people should be people like me, with actual life experience, not suits with qualifications and absolutely no experience of living it. I know without a shadow of doubt I can reach the children and young adults that the professionals will NEVER reach….

Between 64 and 80 per cent of secondary schools in England currently have counsellors, researchsuggests.

My Thoughts – When I read the above I was very shocked and if this was the case back in 2016 what happened? I’ve spoken to a number of teachers and parents and none of them can believe this 64% to 80% statistic. My question would be, if this is or was the case why are you still having to say, in 2020, all schools should have counsellors available for our children and young adults?

Ms Longfield said that in a consultation she held with children about access to mental health services, they had told her that they were most comfortable about going to someone in school, rather than their GP.

My Thoughts – From many years experience myself and from speaking with many people since my mental breakdown in 2013 a lot of GP’s are definitely not the place children should go with early mental health issues….

“They were going to the internet for information and had no clue whether that information was robust or not.”

My Thoughts – It is terrifying to me that our children and young adults are having to go to the internet for information and help because, although in theory it is great there is a wealth of information on the internet, it is also a huge negative, because a lot of the information is misleading and very easily has the potential of making a child or young adult go on the internet with mild anxiety or depression and come away believing they are seriously mentally ill.

With this seriously misleading and misguided information in their mind they can easily plummet into a place in there minds they should never get anywhere near without proper investigation and people to speak with. Once they are convinced they are seriously mentally ill and left with this belief for a period of time it will be a hell of a lot more difficult to help them than if they had spoken to someone properly in the first place….

About one in 10 children is believed to be affected by mental health problems, including depression and eating disorders. 

My Thoughts – I would say “about 1 in 10” even back in 2016 was underestimating the truth and now our children and young adults have suffered and struggled through the Covid period I would hate to guess or know how many it would be now out of 10, scary to even think about but as they say “Children are Resilient”.

If the right things are put in place and the journalists and media stop over publicising the message that all our children and young adults are doomed to a life of mental illness, I believe there is a strong possibility that those who are experiencing mild anxiety, stress and depression can get back on track pretty quickly, but in order for this to be the case we need to act quickly, in fact we need to act NOW before it’s too late….

I’m going to skip the bit about the The Welsh government….

I’m going to skip the bit about March 2015, the Department for Education in England published its blueprint for counselling in schools

I can’t skip the bit about CAMHS!

“Schools are only part of the picture though, and depend upon timely and effective support from experts outside the school gates. Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services [CAMHS] need to be adequately funded.”

My Thoughts – IMHO CAMHS do amazing work, but mental illness is hard enough to get our heads around as adults. As adults in the main we deal with the GP’s and mental health professionals one on one.

CAMHS have an almost impossible job, because not only do they have to work with the children and young adults they have the worried, interfering, irate parents. All to often I have heard the saying “ah don’t worry about it your son/daughter isn’t mentally ill they’re just a teenager that’s how teenagers are they’ll grow out of it”. I would imagine like me when you hear this you get angry!

I have been at various meetings with staff from local CAMHS departments and like all mental and physical health professionals they are passionate and totally dedicated to helping the children and young adults in they’re care and I know they do a great job.

However, I have spoken with many people about the service they receive for their children from CAMHS and I’m very sad to say very very rarely have I spoken to anyone with anything positive to say about CAMHS….

I’ve just done a vlog called “Children are Resilient”

I hope you take time to watch it and would love to hear your thoughts on the vlog and on my very long email.
I look forward to hearing from you
“enjoy the good and ride out the bad”
…. end of email