“Every day our front-line services see children and teenagers struggling to get to grips with how they fit into the increasingly complex modern world — contending with things like intense pressure at school, bullying or problems at home, all while being bombarded by social media,” he said in a statement on Monday.
He added: “Services like these can lessen the anxiety, pain and anguish that some teens go through, but also reduce their need for intensive support further down the line.”
But two Parliamentary committees have criticized the government reports on which the program is based, for focusing on handling emotional problems rather than preventing them. In a report released last May, the Education and Health and Social Care Committees wrote, “the Government’s strategy lacks ambition and will provide no help to the majority of those children who desperately need it,” while increasing the workload of teachers.
“The role of prevention appears to be a missing link in building better support for children and young people, especially in the early years,” the committees wrote. They found that social media and the schools’ system of high-pressure exams can have particularly negative effects on the mental health of young people.
But Dr. Jessica Deighton, an associate professor in child mental health and well-being at University College London who is leading the government trials, said that the new initiative was intended to offer more than quick fixes.
“There is a tendency to think that the solution is mental health intervention,” she said on Monday. “We will try to reduce the stigma against mental health problems, by making the school environment literate in mental health.”
She said the program included several tactics, including training teachers to hold role-playing exercises, teaching relaxation practices and inviting professionals for group discussions.
“It’s not just to make them feel better in the short-term,” Dr. Deighton said, “but to better equip them for later in life.”