Time to Talk about children’s mental health

Today’s guest blog is from Councillor Helen Godwin, Cabinet Member for Families, Women, and Homes.

Today’s Time to Talk Day and this week’s Children’s Mental Health Week come at a time when health, wellbeing, and children are at the top of the national conversation like never before, due to the pandemic and its impact on schools. In Bristol, for Marvin’s administration, these issues have always been at the forefront of our agenda.

A year is a long time in anyone’s life, but for our youngest citizens even more so. My six year old son told me innocently this week that he barely remembers life before covid-19. It’s heart-breaking for us as parents, carers and grandparents that our young people have experienced so many months of uncertainty, restrictions, and, in many cases, fear and anxiety.  

In 2016, we pledged to ensure that there was Mental Health education in all primary schools in Bristol, we are delighted that the Jigsaw programme has been implemented in 113 of our primary schools (almost 100%). While primary schools are working in partnership as one of the country’s Relationships, Sex, and Health Education (RSHE) hubs, secondaries are also moving forward with Bristol Healthy Schools’ Mental Health accreditations – giving further access to resources that help them to share their feelings, build confidence and resilience and to be proud of and love who they are. We want all of Bristol’s children to feel safe and cared for both at home and in the wider city, and to know that if they need help or support we have the structures in place to step in. 

Covid-19 risks leaving the UK in an all-age mental health crisis, and now is the time to plan and resource the services that will be needed. We know children are reporting increased levels of anxiety, eating disorders are rising, and even some of our youngest children are reporting feeling down or lonely. 

Children need to be at school for their education, but they also need the safe space of their  schools to share their stories, play, exercise, learn to socialise, and learn to cope with a bad day. With a return to school still at least a month away, the phenomenal resilience of our children and young people is only set to be further tested. For some our teenagers this lockdown has taken their fragile plans further off course. A lack of clarity about exams and assessments means that deeply considered  future plans for apprenticeships, degree courses or training hang in the balance.

Children’s Mental Health week gives us an opportunity to stop, pause and reflect and perhaps step away from the screen and spend some time with our young people; talking, walking and being in nature – as needed for us as them after the longest January on record. It also gives us the opportunity to demand better mental health services for those young people who will need extra support.

Children’s Mental Health Services (CAMHS) have been woefully underfunded for years and organisations which support young people before they need CAMHS are struggling to survive. This week Marvin and I will write to Vicky Ford MP, the Children’s Minister, calling for a Children’s Well-being Fund to be set up as part of the covid-19 recovery plan to ensure that all children that need extra help and support for their mental health can access it, after this most testing of years.  

Our children deserve to thrive and Bristol needs national Government to match our commitment to them.