‘Transforming Children and Young People’s Mental Health Provision’

The green paper on Transforming children and young people’s mental health provision raises important issues around the need for joined up working, and how essential it is to have a whole school approach to supporting pupils with their mental health.

Julie Whelan, Nordoff Robbins’ CEO writes:

We at Nordoff Robbins are delighted to see this paper focusing on earlier intervention and prevention, especially in and linked to schools and colleges – and with mental health awareness training for school staff as a key part of this. We have submitted a response to the paper, and look forward to seeing how this work will be taken forward.

Key proposals in the paper include creating a new mental health workforce of community-based mental health support teams and ensuring every school and college will be encouraged to appoint a designated lead for mental health. These steps would arguably help to strengthen the support networks and provision for children and young people experiencing mental health issues, and we wholeheartedly support them.

Experiencing a mental health issue can be very isolating and people experiencing mental health problems may find that their lives are chaotic or rigid. It can affect a person’s personality and their thought processes, in turn impacting on their ability to be expressive and to communicate and interact with others. Music therapy can be a very effective in this regard, supporting those experiencing mental health issues by having a positive impact on anxiety reduction and aspects of social interaction – in effect helping to them to overcome some of the barriers which prevent them from living their lives to their fullest potential.

We at Nordoff Robbins believe that access to creative and arts therapies for support teams could fundamentally bolster that provision, particularly in the case of music therapy. Music therapy is especially accessible to young people because of its non-verbal nature – in cases when words fail, music speaks and aid communication. Music-making is uniquely effective in engaging young people who might otherwise resist engagement with other services, focusing on utilising what they can do, rather than what they can’t, to help build their confidence. 

The work of a music therapist as part of a support team or complementary whole school approach is very practical in support of vulnerable young people, including those with special educational needs (SEND), for: responsiveness, engagement, interaction, communication and expression.

A music therapist’s training enables them to tailor musical opportunities to the needs of vulnerable young people who often find it hardest to access these health-promoting opportunities but stand to gain most from doing so. Music therapy enables young people to try out ways of being expressive, creative and empowered in ways which are safe, sustainable and socially constructive. It is effective in reducing anxiety and isolation while promoting a functional sense of self, creativity, social interaction and communication.

In 2017 Nordoff Robbins undertook a study to review the impact of our music therapy services in school settings. The evidence demonstrated a positive impact on special educational needs, but also where music therapy had impacted positively on issues like anxiety and issues around community and social interaction, that arguably may support children and young people’s mental health and wellbeing in schools. 

In addition to the children and young people, some sessions also included other family members and school staff – the Nordoff Robbins approach being to share our music therapy practice with communities around our beneficiaries where appropriate, to benefit organisations as a whole.  

Fundamentally, what is crucial here is that these proposed actions laid out in the green paper are carefully considered, to safeguard the future of children and young people, and allow them to live their lives to the fullest potential. We at Nordoff Robbins know how life-changing our work can be, and our vision is a world where music therapy is available to all who need it – consultations like these bring us that step closer.