Bishop of St Albans asks Government about support to address self-harm by young people

stalbans190117-bOn 9th February 2017 the House of Lords debated a motion from Baroness Massey of Darwen “to ask Her Majesty’s Government what action they plan to take in the light of the Association for Young People’s Health briefing There for you which discusses the role of parents in supporting young people with mental health problems.” The Bishop of St Albans, Rt Revd Alan Smith, spoke in the debate:

The Lord Bishop of St Albans: My Lords, there are few more urgent issues in modern Britain than the state of mental health among our young people, and I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Massey, for tabling this important debate. Referrals to specialist mental health services have risen dramatically in recent years as increasing social pressures on our young people threaten the mental health of a generation. Issues around body image are one area of particular concern, fuelled in part by the rise of social media. I want to take this opportunity to pay tribute to my friend the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Gloucester for her important work around body image and self-worth.

One statistic that has caused me concern, and which I have already mentioned in the House, is the rise in self-harm among young boys and girls. Some 20% of British 15 year-olds report some form of self-harm, while in the past five years hospital admissions associated with self-harm have gone up by nearly 93% among girls and 45% among boys. It is notable that of the parents who participated in the report mentioned in the question put by the noble Baroness in tabling this debate, 59% said that their child self-harmed.

The charity selfharmUK, located in my diocese, does amazing work helping parents, youth workers and teachers understand and respond to the issues around self-harm. But for many who do not have access to such resources, parents in particular, knowing how to respond can be very difficult. It is all too easy to panic and thereby sometimes make the situation even worse. What seems to me to be absolutely essential is readily available support and training for parents, teachers and youth workers about how to help children who are struggling with self-harm and similar mental health conditions. I was very moved, as I am sure were other noble Lords, by the comments made in the past week by the broadcaster Mark Austin in the Times about his struggle to understand his daughter’s anorexia. Can the Minister therefore inform the House what steps, in addition to the welcome mental health training for teachers announced by the Prime Minister last month, Her Majesty’s Government will take to make sure that parents and youth workers are able to access proper resources and support when it comes to understanding mental health in young people?

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department of Health (Lord O’Shaughnessy) (Con)…When I was growing up, self-harm was a problem, but on a very small scale. However, over the last 10 years the figure has increased by 68% and, as the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of St Albans, said, it now affects boys as well as girls. Around 8,000 children under the age of 10 have severe depression—another heart-rending statistic—and the number of 15 and 16 year-olds with depression nearly doubled between the 1980s and the 2000s…

…The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of St Albans asked about support for parents. Some 90% of the local transformation plans that I have mentioned have parenting and early years programmes. Clearly, for this to be an effective strategy, it must involve getting to parents and families early, before problems arise, so that parents and young people, as they get older, have the skills they need to spot and deal with mental illnesses as they arrive.