Harlow’s MP, Robert Halfon, this evening led a House of Commons debate on the provision of mental health counselling in schools. He secured the debate working with a senior Labour MP, Nick Brown, through the House of Commons Backbench Business Committee.
Mr Halfon said that the “the repercussions of the pandemic will have a significant impact on children and young people” noting the personal story he had heard a few months ago from a resident that said “her daughter had become so concerned about personal hygiene following the outbreak of COVID-19, she had developed OCD. Because of how often she was washing her hands, they were red-raw and bleeding”.
He added that “an investigation conducted by the Children’s Commissioner’s office found that despite the increase in referrals, the number of children actually accessing the treatment they need increased by just 4%”.
However, Mr Halfon said he believed that there were three ways that the Government “can turn the tide”.
First, he called on the Government to massively accelerate the plan to place a mental health professional in every school. He said that “mental health provision shouldn’t remain a postcode lottery” and that “the facts also show that better mental health also leads to improved academic outcomes”.
Second, Mr Halfon argued that extending the school day with extra-curricular activities led by civil society organisations to offer pupils professional mental health support, as well as sporting activities, music and drama lessons would both help to tackle the mental health epidemic and increase pupils’ academic attainment. He made clear that this would not be about “an extra couple of hours of algebra” but instead focussed on mental well-being and extra-curricular activities led by civil society.
Third, he argued that “a mental health levy for social media giants” should be introduced because “we know that social media is like a wrecking ball for young people’s mental health and wellbeing”. Mr Halfon said that the funds raised could “then be distributed to schools to provide mental health support and digital skills training for young people to build the resilience and online safety skills they need”.
The Harlow MP cited some harrowing statistics and real anecdotes in his speech and said that only by tackling this mental health epidemic can “we ensure that our children and young people emerge from the pandemic both resilient, and able to climb the educational ladder of opportunity”.
Mr Halfon has consistently campaigned for more funding for mental health and for higher school funding and pledged to continue to “work hard to champion education and do everything possible to help our young people climb the educational ladder of opportunity.”