A new initiative to prevent mental health problems arising in children with long-term physical conditions has been successfully piloted across Scotland and is now available to schools and youth organisations nation-wide.
Long term conditions, such as arthritis, spina bifida, epilepsy and diabetes often have a profound impact on the mental health of children and young people. They account for 80% of GP consultations and 30% of people with long term conditions have a mental health problem.
People living with long term conditions are more likely to experience psychological problems. Prolonged stress alters immunity, making illness more likely and recovery more difficult, especially for those who are already unwell.
The 'Ucan' project, led by the Mental Health Foundation, aims to prevent mental health problems arising in adulthood by supporting children and young people earlier.
This week Mental Health Minister Maureen Watt visited the charity and took part in a question and answer session with young people after hearing about the project and how it has impacted on their lives.
A key component of the project is working with health charities to deliver “Stress Less” workshops. These interactive workshops include tools such as 'Ucards', which were showcased during the Minister’s visit. These allow children to communicate their emotional needs to others through Red Amber Green cards and help people respond to their needs.
The charity has also warned that Year of Young People will be a missed opportunity if it fails to shine a spotlight on Scotland’s most vulnerable children, and should focus more on how they and their families can be supported to succeed.
Children and Youth Manager at the Mental Health Foundation Rachel Hood (pictured) said: "Long-term conditions like arthritis, spina bifida, epilepsy and diabetes can have a profound impact on children and young people’s mental health. Young people with these conditions often become real experts in what they need physically by getting to know their bodies, but often we don’t help them to think about what they need to stay mentally well. If we can support children to self-manage their mental health as well as their physical health we can prevent poor mental wellbeing in childhood and the emergence of mental health problems into adulthood.
"Young people with these conditions have told us that it can be difficult to feel understood and that this can make them feel different from their peers, which is often isolating. With more day to day self-care required to stay well, simple activities can be a bit more complex so life can feel more stressful too. We are working with some great health charities to explore strategies and resources that can help young people communicate what’s going on for them and to strengthen their resilience.
"Our 'Stress Less' workshops, for example, focus on how stress impacts us and the importance of knowing what works for us as individuals to stay mentally well as we navigate life’s ups and downs; from practical things we can do ourselves, to how to ask for help.
"In Scotland's Year of Young People, it is vital that we shine a spotlight on the experiences of our most vulnerable young people but also that we act on what they tell us needs to change – to improve their lives and protect others from the same adversity.
"Now that the pilot is complete we look forward to working with schools and youth organisations across Scotland to support children with long term conditions and help them succeed."
Mental Health Minister Maureen Watt said:"The conversation on mental health takes on particular significance during 2018, the Year of Young People, and it’s been fantastic to meet with representatives from the Mental Health Foundation today to discuss their UCAN project.
"Mental health needs to be something everybody talks about and is the responsibility of everyone working with children.
"At the heart of our mental health strategy is a commitment, passion and drive to prevent and treat mental health problems with the same vigour as we do physical health problems. Early intervention and prevention are the cornerstone of our approach and there are a number of actions in our mental health strategy aimed at ensuring that agencies act early enough when issues emerge and impact young lives.
"Our ambitious 10 year strategy, backed by investment of £150 million over the next five years, sets out clearly how we can improve early intervention, and ensure better access to services. We want people to get the right help at the right time, expect recovery, and fully enjoy their rights, free from discrimination and stigma. Whether in schools, workplaces, communities or care facilities, the strategy will see us take forward an initial 40 actions to shape change."