Body image, self-harm and bullying among biggest challenges facing Suffolk’s young people
PUBLISHED: 07:29 13 February 2020 | UPDATED: 07:29 13 February 2020
Katarzyna Bialasiewicz Photographee.eu
Around one in seven young people in Suffolk have self-harmed – and many are not reaching out for support, according to a major new survey.
Young people's self esteem in the county was also found to be four points below the national average, according to new Healthwatch Suffolk research.
What did the survey reveal?
The study, of almost 12,000 youngsters aged between 11 and 19, also discovered 58% of girls and 22% of boys worried about their body image most if not all of the time.
More than half (55%) of those asked said they had not reached out for support, with boys less likely to seek help than girls.
Around 14% of students over 14 said they had used cannabis in the last year, while 3% said they had used cocaine.
And 15% of boys and 18% of girls said they had seen content online showing self-harm or suicidal behaviour, with those watching it one-and-a-half times more likely to self-harm.
Chief executive Andy Yacoub said the watchdog continues to be "highly concerned" about the levels of help available to youngsters in Suffolk.
It comes as children and young people's mental health services, run by the Norfolk and Suffolk Foundation Trust (NSFT), were rated 'inadequate' by the Care Quality Commission in January.
He added: "Lengthy waiting times, poor continuity of care and a subsequent feeling of being passed between services continue to be significant barriers for young people seeking help.
"This sentiment is reflected in many of their survey responses this year.
"The worries young people are experiencing do not leave them at the end of their school day and we must therefore ensure the offer of support extends into their life beyond the school gate."
New mental health teams and helpline created
Mr Yacoub said there had been year-on-year progress in schools, with Jo John, who heads up mental health services at Suffolk's two clinical commissioning groups, hailing the success of two new teams rolled out at schools in the county.
"One of the biggest issues highlighted is that 55% of young people did not ask for help or support," she said.
"We have really focused on improving access to services.
"With many young people most comfortable online, last October we introduced Kooth, which offers 365 days a year access to online counselling support, and in the first two months of going live there have been almost 500 users.
"We are also really pleased to have been able to expand the support on offer in schools with two new mental health teams working with children and young people in education across east and west Suffolk."
MORE: Major school revamp sees 'stress-busting' space built for pupils
One of these schools is Farlingaye High School, in Woodbridge.
Mental health lead Jemma Schollar has overseen the creation of mental health ambassadors - a team of sixth-formers, who are trained in mental health first aid.
The school arranged its own mental health report to look at the specific needs of its students.
Ms Scollar said: "We have found our report so useful. I have shared the findings with our heads of years and safeguarding leads and we have already put interventions in place.
"We are continuing to create new ideas and resources across the school.
"For example, the report highlighted that our sixth form students would benefit from additional support, so we created a student hub and arranged for Student Life to train our sixth form ambassadors in mental health first aid.
"They now have a mental health first aid qualification which will help them to identify other students in need of support and enable them to support each other."
'Higher demand for services'
Stuart Richardson, NSFT's chief operating officer, welcomed the Healthwatch Suffolk report.
"Every year, nationally, we see more complex care needs and a greater awareness of mental health issues," he said.
"While this is positive as people are confident to come forward for help when they need it, it also means there are higher demands on our services.
"To address this, we are working closely with our colleagues and partners in the CCGs and other agencies in Suffolk to improve access and reduce waiting lists for young people.
He added: "We are transforming our approach - for example, we set up the children, families and young person's service in August 2019.
"We acknowledge it will take time to improve services, and we are moving in the right direction."
James Reeder, responsible for public health at Suffolk County Council, said the authority is working with the CCGs and other NHS organisations to produce an 'emotional wellbeing plan' which should improve access to mental health support and advice for families.
He also pointed to the new Kooth service, which provides online counselling and support.
MORE: Why are children with mental illnesses being 'turned away' by the NHS?
To view the full report, visit the Healthwatch Suffolk website.
If you value what this story gives you, please consider supporting the Stowmarket Mercury. Click the link in the orange box above for details.