Last week, Huffington Post launched their Young Minds Matter campaign. The Duchess of Cambridge is endorsing the project, acting as guest editor of a series of articles commissioned to highlight the extent of the problem of children’s mental health and the woeful amount of attention being paid to the issue, which has reached crisis point. The series also aims to suggest a number of potential solutions to removing the stigma surrounding mental illness amongst our children and to start getting those who are affected the help they need to achieve better mental and emotional health.
An early article in the series served to reveal The Real Truth about Mental Health in Children. In brief, three children in every classroom are affected by mental health problems at any one time, which equates to 900,000 five to sixteen year olds. On average, 75% of poor childhood mental health conditions are undiagnosed and those enduring mental suffering have to wait around 10 years to receive help, by which point emergency treatment is administered to a young adult in crisis. Not only does this result in the wastage of unquantifiable amounts of childhood potential, but it is estimated that half of adult mental illness begins before the age of 15.
One suggested solution, to at least part of the problem, is presented in another article highlighting the work of Dr Mark Williams, champion of the Mindfulness in Schools project. He points out that studies have shown that children who struggle with self-control often become adults with the same problem. Helping these kids to pause and take account of their mood before taking action is a positive skill that is likely to be carried on into adult life.
Teaching the practice of mindfulness helps children to create a pocket of calm in the unavoidably frenetic environment of a busy school. It allows them to see that their thoughts and worries about what has passed and what may be to come are mental events, not facts, and can be self-regulated. Advocates believe that mindfulness can improve a child’s focus and self-understanding and, in turn, promote a more developed sense of empathy and kindness. The net result is greater mental stability and a better appreciation of what is, rather than a fruitless craving for what cannot be. In turn, happiness and well-being will be enhanced, whilst negative feelings of stress, anxiety and depression are reduced.
TG Escapes fully embrace this sentiment and believe that there is a very simple step that schools can take to naturally stimulate a more mindful state and all the positive mental benefits this may endow: get outside into nature.
Exposure to nature, or even simply viewing nature, serves to distract us from negative emotions, lowering feelings of pain, fear, anger and stress. Being outdoors lifts our mood and stimulates our nervous, endocrine and immune systems. It is good for body, mind and spirit and, in the longer term, it is believed that children who enjoy regular contact with nature tend to retain the habit into adulthood and experience an increased level of satisfaction with life in general.
A recent National Trust survey revealed that 80% of the happiest people in the UK said that they have a strong connection with the natural world, compared with less than 40% of the unhappiest. Furthermore, the link between increased contact with nature and better mental health stimulated the charity MIND to launch a campaign in 2007 to incorporate nature into mainstream NHS treatments.
Whatever the setting of your school, urban or rural, there are always green spaces close by to reap the benefits so freely given by nature. As spring is taking its first tottering steps, with green shoots erupting from every patch of soil and the birds finding their voices, there is no better time to take your pupils outside and watch them breathe, smile and glow.