In up to 370 English schools, students will start to practice mindfulness as part of a study to improve youth mental health, the British government said on Monday.
They will work with mental health experts to learn relaxation techniques, breathing exercises and other methods to “help them regulate their emotions,” the government said in a news release.
The goal of the programme is to study which approaches work best for young people in a world of rapid change. The government said the study, which will run until 2021, is one of the largest of its kind in the world.
“As a society, we are much more open about our mental health than ever before, but the modern world has brought new pressures for children,” Damian Hinds, the British education secretary, said.
“Children will start to be introduced gradually to issues around mental health, well-being and happiness right from primary school,” he added.
The initiative comes after a survey commissioned by the National Health Service found that 1 in 8 children in England between the ages of 5 and 19 suffered from at least one mental disorder at the time of their assessment in 2017.
The survey, which was published in November, also indicated a slight increase in mental disorders in 5- to 15-year-olds, which rose to 11.2% in 2017 from 9.7% in 1999. Disorders like anxiety and depression were the most common, affecting 1 in 12 children and early adolescents in 2017, and appeared more often in girls.
Imran Hussain, director of policy and campaigns for Action for Children, a British charity, in the UK, called it a “children’s mental health crisis.”
He added: “Services like these can lessen the anxiety, pain and anguish that some teens go through, but also reduce their need for intensive support further down the line.”
But two Parliamentary committees have criticised the government reports on which the programme is based. In a report released in May, the education and health and social care committees wrote, “the government’s strategy lacks ambition and will provide no help to the majority of those children who desperately need it,” while increasing the workload of teachers.
But Jessica Deighton, an associate professor in child mental health and well-being, said the new initiative was intended to offer more than quick fixes. “There is a tendency to think that the solution is mental health intervention,” she said Monday. “We will try to reduce the stigma against mental health problems, by making the school environment literate in mental health.”