Pupils growing up in London’s most deprived areas are to be given lessons in mental health thanks to a £75 million grant from the Big Lottery Fund.
HeadStart, which was launched at the Amy Winehouse Foundation ball last night, aims to increase the emotional resilience of children aged 10 to 14 as they move to secondary school.
The programme, supported by X Factor runner-up Jahmene Douglas, has been created in response to research by members of the fund’s youth panel, who found mental health was among their peers’ top concerns.
This reinforces a finding in last month’s report by the Government’s chief medical officer, Professor Dame Sally Davies, that 75 per cent of adult mental health problems take grip before the age of 18.
Working with partnerships in 12 areas across England, including Lewisham and Newham, HeadStart will try through early intervention to pre-empt mental health problems, which often result in social exclusion, abuse, crime and poor physical health such as obesity. Douglas, who was beaten by his father and developed sleeping and eating disorders, told the Standard that having someone to turn to at school would have helped him.
The 22-year-old from Birmingham, who once tried to kill himself, said: “There was no one to talk to about the situation. If I had had someone I could have had confidence in, I would have opened up. But instead I just put on a front. If I had had something like this I think I could have coped a lot quicker, so it’s very nice to be a part of it.”
Dharmendra Kanani, the fund’s director for England, said: “Body change, mental change, peer group change — everything happens to you at the same time with very little attention paid to your mental health.
“For many young people, how they feel about themselves, their self-esteem, confidence or negative peer pressure can become deeply troubling, take root and lead to crime, self-harm or even suicide. But with the right support and access to help at this key transition stage of our lives we aim to show that young people can be given a head start to lead happier, more fulfilling lives.”
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