The Importance of the Arts in our Young People’s Mental Health
“As mental health campaigner Natasha Devon points out, self-harm is frequently a way of being heard. Perhaps then, if we help young people find other, more creative outlets, we might find it easier to hear what they’re trying to tell us.”[i]
It is easy for me to agree with this statement, having spent 18 years teaching the Creative Arts, with one of those teaching on a psychiatric ward, however, there is something profound her which needs unpicking.
I start with my own experiences in the early years of teaching. I had a Drama Studio, before they were repurposed for other curriculum areas, and I quite often spent my lunch hour there. More often than not, I was visited by pupils, those pupils who felt out of place elsewhere in the school, and to whom the Studio was their safe space. Friendships and alliances were forged there which were not elsewhere in the school.
In my own school life, I wish I had somewhere like this to go, as I didn’t ‘fit in’, or feel comfortable. Lenny Henry, in an article for Sky News,[ii] speaks of the importance of the Arts “for a child’s sense of inclusion”, and I saw that with my own eyes as a teacher, and wished for it as a pupil.
Yet the Arts are being eroded in schools, and our young people are being put under inordinate pressure by schools, which in turn are being pressured by Ofsted and the Government. The emphasis on league tables and results have led to a system wherein the test has become the important thing, as a BBC News article explores.[iii] “School inspectors in England have put too much weight on tests and exam results when rating schools, Ofsted boss Amanda Spielman has admitted.”
How can our young people flourish and grow if they are being groomed for GCSE from the age of 11?
And, surely 11 is too young an age for such pressure? Where is the time to be a child, to play, to discover who they are, if they are being groomed for results, and therefore league tables from this age?
As Catherine Heinemeyer states in her article for The Conversation,[iv] “To thrive emotionally, young people need their own time and space, that is not explicitly directed at particular outcomes. The Arts provide some of the key forums for this.”
Without these forums, young people struggle to develop emotionally or to express the complicated feelings they are experiencing.
With “a 68% rise in rates of self-harm among girls aged 13
to 16 since 2011”,[v]
something has got to be done to allow avenues of expression which have been
diminished in recent years.
[i] Heinemeyer, C. “Mental health crisis in teens is being magnified by demise of creative subjects in school. The Conversation. September 2018
[ii] Henry, L. “Arts vital for a child’s sense of inclusion”. Sky News. September 2018
[iii] Sellgreen, K “Ofsted admits adding to ‘teach-to-the-test’ mentality. BBC News. September 2018
[iv] Heinemeyer, C. “Mental health crisis in teens is being magnified by demise of creative subjects in school. The Conversation. September 2018
[v] Analysis by Bazian, edited by NHS website <https://www.nhs.uk/news/mental-health/worrying-rise-reports-self-harm-among-teenage-girls-uk/>
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