Mental Health Day 2018 is shining a bright light on the need for governments to invest in mental health programmes for youngsters and for the social, health and education sectors to become involved in “comprehensive, integrated, evidence-based programmes for the mental health of young people.”
The focus of the programmes should be on how to raise awareness of ways to look after the mental health of adolescents and young adults and how to help peers, parents and teachers understand the best way to offer support to their friends, children and students.
With the changes that young people face as they grow into adulthood, there have always been concerns about the transition from child to adult. In the world today, with the immense growth of online technologies, adolescents are inundated more than ever with outside pressure.
These pressures range from a constant barrage of social media to the 24/7 aspect of a network that never sleeps. Day or night, there are people posting, texting, messaging, and making their lives public. Bullying has gone beyond the school playground and spread into the most private areas of a young person’s life.
In the global community, information never stops flowing into our lives. In social media, there is always a way to put up a mask of conformity and bravery. There is also the possibility of reaching into a young person’s life in disturbing and unhealthy ways.
In identifying the health issues facing adolescents, WHO identifies mental health as a leading health issue for young people. The organisation identifies depression as “the third leading cause of illness and disability among adolescents, and suicide is the third leading cause of death in older adolescents (15–19 years).”
WHO also points out that violence, poverty, humiliation and feeling devalued are other sources of the potential risk of young people developing mental health problems. The recommendation for counteracting the risk of mental health problems is to find ways to build life skills in children and adolescents.
This can be done through efforts such as psychosocial support. With schools and social and community services finding ways to promote good mental health, the future can be changed for young people in particular and society in general. One recommendation is that programmes be developed to help strengthen the connection between adolescents and their families. When there are problems, early detection and a programme for managing these problems is the best route to take.
When it comes to mental health and wellbeing, as in so many other things, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. This is why Capstone Foster Care became involved in developing the Multidisciplinary Assessment & Treatment service (MATs). MATs is a specialist fostering programme that provides enhanced support and resources for foster carers and children.
WHO suggested programmes for building better and stronger ties between adolescents and their families. In fostering, this can be a challenge as fostering begins by removing young people from homes that cannot provide the security and protection that should be a child’s basic right. MATs is our response to connecting young people to the family-type environment where they can thrive.
In the foster care world, one of the biggest challenges is to be able to see beyond a child’s behaviour to the reasons and motivations that underline the way they act. Our foster carers are trained and skilled in being able to combine support, caring, and compassion with understanding. In the specialised foster care programme, there is a team well versed in recognising mental illness.
When the local authority takes a child into care, there is an assessment of the child’s previous family life and the child’s developmental progress. When the situation requires specialised efforts to help looked after children, they are referred to the MATs programme. This means that they are placed in therapeutic foster care. This is a foster home where the carers work alongside a clinical therapeutic team. The foster parents in such a situation have enhanced skills and have received training in therapeutic parenting.
This therapeutic foster home environment meets the criteria of the comprehensive, integrated, evidence-based programmes for the mental health of young people and has been identified as a way to make a change in future generations of adults who otherwise might have found successful and positive integration into society increasingly challenging.
It is a fact that looked after children often have a less desirable early childhood than children in the larger society. It is not unreasonable to think that they are more at risk of trauma leading to mental distress and therefore mental illness.
When children come into Capstone’s care, they are given direct therapeutic input, which is what makes MATs so successful. Direct therapeutic input is, all too often, inaccessible, or the waiting lists for the service are very long when the route is taken through local child care services.
Therapeutic foster parents carry out the mandate of all foster carers which is to provide an environment where children and young people can feel protected and valued. The special aspect of therapeutic care is that the youngsters also receive the day to day therapeutic treatment they need.
Any child or young person is susceptible to mental health difficulties. According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), during adolescence and early adulthood when there are so many changes in a young person’s life, there is a great deal of opportunity for stress and apprehension. Unmanaged, these can lead to mental illness.
The World Health Organisation also notes that 50% of all mental illness starts by the age of 14. The illness is present and ripe to develop into a bigger issue and more often than not, these emerging cases of mental illness are not detected and therefore, not treated.
The WHO isn’t generalising about children and adolescents. When there are extreme circumstances of chaos and disruption, there is a strong probability that stress and apprehension are increased.
When a foster child writes in a list of what she wants and in that list is evidence of traumatic experiences from her earlier years, it is easy to see that she might have anxiety and fear as part of her emotional makeup. When a child is neglected and frightened, he or she may need special care designed to heal the physical, emotional, and social injury they have endured.
When children are taken into care by the local authority, there is a committee that examines the home situation and the evaluation may reveal that the children have had negative and neglectful experiences. During the evaluation process, children who need to be placed in therapeutic child care are identified.
The sad fact is that looked after children can have difficulty with relationships as well as building trust. They may experience depression and have withdrawn behaviour, issues with anger management, and aggressive behaviour.
A therapeutic foster home is more than a home. It is more than a sanctuary for troubled children and young people. It is more than a safe and caring family setting. It is a therapeutic atmosphere designed and equipped to help the young person find a path through the vicissitudes of a complex and confusing home life where they may have experienced neglect or abuse.
In foster care, the overall goal is to help children flourish so that they can grow up, thrive, and live a happy life. Positive outcomes are what we all want. At the best of times, this goal can be difficult to attain. In environments that lead to a child being taken into care, when their start in life has been traumatic, the young person may have been impacted emotionally and developmentally.
The result is that they may need extra assistance to heal from the injury to their spirit and the gaps in the loving support of which they may have been deprived. It sometimes happens, for example, that a child from a dysfunctional home may not know how to play. Being a child who has never had the opportunity or circumstances where he or she could do childish things, playing with toys did not happen.
This is why Capstone became involved in therapeutic foster care. Rather than have a child placed in a residential home whether therapy is available, the child becomes a part of a caring family situation where the extra help provided by MATs is available. The extra bonus factor is that at the same time the child receives therapy, he or she is able to learn to trust and form relationships.
The trained foster carer begins by learning as much as possible about the child’s circumstances, responses, and emotional state. While there is a team involved, the foster parent is in a unique position to spend full time with the child. Being available to talk to the child or young person at all times in a loving and understanding manner opens up channels of communication.
One of the strengths of MATs is this connection that the trained foster carer is able to create. It allows the therapeutic team to determine the best approach to help the child’s psychological, emotional, and social development. When the atmosphere demonstrates confidence in the child’s ability to develop self-esteem, self-confidence, and relationships and recover from old disturbing circumstances, it helps the child take the essential steps toward good strong mental health.
WHO notes that mental resilience is becoming recognised as a crucial factor in positive outcomes for any person. There is increasing evidence that the sooner we can find ways to help young people build mental resilience, the better they will be able to cope with the challenges of today’s world.
This is a very large factor in society. When there is a concerted effort to promote and protect adolescent health, the benefits extend beyond the young person’s health to the world at large. When an adult is mentally healthy, he or she can be an active participant in their family, their community, the workforce, and society as a whole.
Prevention begins with better understanding. In 2013, the United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child published guidelines on the right of children and adolescents to the enjoyment of the highest attainable standard of health. In 2016, a General Comment on realising the rights of children during adolescence was published, highlighting the obligation to recognise the special health and development needs of adolescents and young people.
Mental Health Day brings focus to the mental health component of a person’s overall well-being. With a better method of helping children develop mental resilience from an early age, society can minimise the possibility of mental illness as they grow into adulthood. Society can also help them recover from mental illness.
Prevention begins with helping children develop mental resilience and this begins with understanding the early warning signs and symptoms of mental illness. When the signs and symptoms are understood, support can be provided. When parents and teachers are aware of how to help kids build necessary life skills, when health workers are trained to detect and manage mental health disorders, mental illness can be alleviated.
The more we understand about mental illness and how to manage and prevent it, the better we are able to help the new generation emerge into a bright future. The Multidisciplinary Assessment & Treatment service was established at Capstone Foster Care provides therapeutic training and support for both foster carers and looked after children who need specialist additional suppor