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Eight-year-olds to get 'happiness lessons'

Three new projects set out to improve the mental health of teenagers and younger children

Mark Gould

Monday, 13 March 2017

Three trials, set to improve the mental health of teenagers and younger children are set to start in May. The Department for Education (DfE) is inviting bids from organisations to run ‘Youth Aware of Mental Health’ (Yam), ‘The Guide’ and the ‘preventive programmes’.

‘The Guide’, based on a Canadian model, will involve specially trained teachers giving 13- to 15-year-olds 60-minute classes on the different types of mental illnesses and how to combat them. Yam, which mirrors schemes elsewhere in Europe, will give sessions by a trained instructor, lasting 45 to 60 minutes, focusing on collecting pupils’ attitudes. The two will be rolled out to 135 secondary schools.

The third trial, of the ‘preventive programmes’, designed for 100 primary schools and 50 secondary schools, will be a “lighter touch” about wellbeing for children between Year 4 and Year 8. The three projects will run until the summer of 2019. The deadline for tenders is 24 March.

Under the Yam scheme, teenagers will be instructed on combating anxiety and suicidal thoughts. Mindfulness lessons in primary schools will reportedly encourage children to think of disturbing thoughts as “buses” that will move away. An estimated 10% of children suffer a diagnosable mental health condition and mental illness is costing about £105 billion each year.

Lord Layard, who is a government adviser for a current four-year trial of weekly mindfulness classes in 26 schools, said there was an obsession with measuring only academic achievement.

“The development of the character of children is an incredibly important issue,” said Layard, who is also a professor at the London School of Economics and Political Science (LSE). “If you really want schools to take the wellbeing of their pupils as an important goal, there has to be a way of measuring that.”

The trials follow a report by the Institute for Public Policy Research which said all secondary schools needed access to a mental health professional on site, at least one day a week, to combat anxiety and depression.

A spokesperson for the DfE, which says it is pumping £1.4 billion into mental health support for young people, said: “We know that schools often want to provide specific interventions to promote the mental wellbeing of their pupils but sometimes struggle to know what approaches to use. That is why we have announced plans to do further research trials in schools on what interventions work best.”

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