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Children and Family Blog


I have to confess a personal interest. In a few days time, my son, like many thousands of others, will be going to university. Distressingly, this means beginning what may well be a lifetime of debt. The psychological consequences are potentially serious.

A new survey of young people aged 18 to 24 suggests a large proportion experience significant concerns about money. In the survey the average debt was nearly £3000, before commitments such as student loans or mortgages were added. The average student loan balance is £25,505.

It is unsurprising that many of the young people surveyed felt that their debts were a "heavy burden". It seems, from the available data, that student debt has not deterred young people from going to university, but it may well make them anxious during and after their studies.

It’s good to see young people making their way in life, and it’s very good to go to university. But the consequences of such debt are worrying.

Debts can affect our mental health in many ways. Practically, when we do not have enough money to pay for all the things that are essential, like food, rent, bills, travel etc., our lives can become very difficult. When we cannot make the minimum repayments on the debts themselves, things become more difficult still.

As the young people in this survey reported, debt can be a persistent source of anxiety. It can also be a source of shame and regret. If we are in financial difficulties, we may feel ashamed and not want to talk to others about it.

To my way of thinking, these are the ‘normal’ rather than ‘abnormal’ psychological consequences of living with financial uncertainty. If I were pressed, I’d suggest that the ‘abnormality’ lies in our present economic, social and political system, rather than in the minds of young people.

My son is fortunate. Not (despite his own beliefs) because he has inalienable personal gifts, but because I have had a steady job for 28 years, and I can act as a guarantor (and benefactor).

Not all of us are so lucky. Even in a rich and developed nation – perhaps particularly in a rich and developed nation – such things as personal debt and the inequity between neighbours can be tough.

That is why, in my opinion, a commitment to social justice should go hand in hand with the application of psychological science.

Wed, 31/08/2016 - 12:14

This is a joint post from Professor Peter Kinderman, President Elect, and Professor Jamie Hacker Hughes, the President.

The DECP (Division of Educational Psychology) held its annual conference at the Holiday Inn Hotel London Bloomsbury last week. It is thought to have been a first for both the President and the President Elect to attend.

Peter Kinderman writes:

"I attended the conference on Wednesday and Thursday of last week. The theme for this year was 'inclusivity'. This related not only to the protection of children, in that the conference was entitled 'Towards an inclusive psychology; do labels and diagnoses help or hinder?', but also to our shared aspirations for closer links between the branches of applied psychology.

"The conference was an enormous success. I believe both the conference and my keynote address (many thanks to DECP for inviting me) addressed these two ambitions and, I am reliably informed, made a positive impression on colleagues from the Department for Education and Skills."

Jamie Hacker Hughes writes:

"I attended the conference on the Thursday and attended a very useful symposium on 'Beyond Labelling' before the lunchtime AGM at which Vivian Hill succeeded Charmian Hobbs as Chair. There were also useful discussions about the Society's structural review and about the Divisional journal, and its future.

"Andre Imich, SEN and disability professional adviser, Department for Education and Skills, addressed the conference on the progress of the government's SEN reforms and the role that educational psychologists are playing within it.

"Dr Dawn Harper and Dr Ravi Jayaram, seen in the photograph, talked about their experiences of making the programme 'Born Naughty' and discussed the role which the media plays in bringing complex needs of childhood to a wider audience."

Both felt that the conference was an excellent example of how applied psychologists can be: authoritative professionals, explaining their day-to-day work helping children and young people to solve problems in their lives; innovative scientists, exploring both the causes of those problems and evaluating the interventions; and champions of social justice, campaigning for better services and public understanding of difficult issues.

Tue, 12/01/2016 - 15:12

The Elizabeth Tower, Palace of WestminsterI blogged recently about the Society’s activity at this autumn’s party conferences.

The same effort to maximise our impact has seen me attend a number of meetings in and around the Palace of Westminster recently.

I spoke at a meeting hosted by Lord Leigh of Hurley raising a number of concerns, including the availability of a variety of therapies, the battle against stigma and funding for children’s and young people’s services.

Then I attended a meeting where Alastair Burt spoke about children’s mental health care as well as the Improving Access to Psychological Therapies programme and long-term conditions as part of the mental health priorities for the new Government. At the meeting, the Minister publicly thanked us for the useful documents we had provided at the conference.

Other events have included meetings Lord Kamlesh Patel and Baroness Sheila Hollins and attending two events on military and veterans’ mental health.

Society members were also well represented at the launch of Mindfulness All-Party Parliamentary Group report ‘Mindful Nation UK’ as Mark Williams and Willem Kuyken, both clinical psychologists from the Oxford Mindfulness Centre, were among the speakers. The event was attended both by a number of MPs and and Peers together with pupils from the UCL Academy and Tonbridge School.

Wed, 11/11/2015 - 11:45

The new school year is well under way and later this month families will enjoy half term. I heard this week that October is Walk to School Month, which got me thinking about the BPS behaviour change briefing on physical (in)activity.

It notes that in 2008 only 32 per cent of boys and 24 per cent of girls achieved the recommended level of physical activity.

The Society’s briefing is primarily about physical activity in adults, but it does support the idea of incorporating more exercise into your daily routine rather than suddenly joining a gym. And perhaps parents could get more exercise by walking with their children and arranging activities for half term?

Many will already know how keen I am on running, and it's been good to run together with other psychologists in various places around the country. I'm thinking of seeing if we can get psychologists running together at a number of events around the UK next year too.

Only a thought at this stage but it might be yet another, slightly different, way of continuing to raise our profile.

You can hear the lead author of the briefing, Mark Uphill, talking about the ideas behind it in an audio interview on the BPS website.

The Society has published five of these behaviour change briefings. The other topics covered are:

  • school attendance, exclusion and persistent absence
  • energy conservation
  • tax and tax compliance
  • personal debt.
Wed, 07/10/2015 - 15:05

In August Dorothy Miell mentioned a forthcoming issue of Child & Family Clinical Psychology Review (CFCPR) looking at what a good mental health service for children and young people looks like.

It is now available as issue 3 of CFCPR: ‘What good looks like in psychological services for children, young people and their families. It was launched at the annual conference of the DCP Faculty for children, young people and their families, which I am attending today, and you can buy it through the BPS Shop.

The editors argue that:

“Mental health and psychological wellbeing must be promoted and delivered in whole community systems that integrate health, social care, schools and the voluntary sectors. These systems must reach out and deliver services that are acceptable and accessible to all children, young people and families across all communities, regardless of ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation or social class.”

Tue, 06/10/2015 - 14:43

Over the summer it seems that not a day has gone by without a story about children and mental health being in the news.

This week has seen widespread coverage of the Children’s Society Good Childhood Report. This found that English children rank 14th for life satisfaction out of 15 countries surveyed. Bullying and appearance are a concern for them to a degree unknown in many other societies.

And only today I saw a story suggesting school nurses need more mental health training.

The picture can be confusing. Young Minds said £35m has been cut from child mental health services across the UK in the last year, yet the Cabinet Office had encouraging news on traditional concerns about young people, such as alcohol, drugs and pregnancy.

So maybe we need to ask a more fundamental question: What does a good mental health service for young people look like? And this is just the question that will be addressed in the next issue of Child & Family Clinical Psychology Review, which will be published this autumn.

As to the need for more training, this is just the reason the Society helps fund MindEd. This website offers mental health education to adults who work with children as professionals or volunteers. It is well worth exploring.

The Society is working hard to ensure that psychologists are part of the debate on improving mental health services for children and part of the solution.

Fri, 21/08/2015 - 16:07