“If their mental health breaks before they go into an exam, there’ll be no A grades” was an eye-opening statement made by Professor Barry Carpenter, CBE, OBE, PhD, University of Oxford at the keynote address.
Carpenter’s address was part of a conference on Additional Educational Needs hosted by Dulwich College Beijing in November, 2016. Carpenter is on a mission to change mental health practices in the UK and beyond.
Through his presentation, fact after fact settled on the educators in attendance. The passionate teachers, counselors, and special education professionals in attendance were from YCIS, BSB, Sanlitun, BSB, Shunyi, BIBA, Keystone, BIBS, BCIS, and others, who you can meet at the Beijing International School Expo (BISE).
Radical new UK legislation requires that schools take responsibility for the mental health of their students. And rightly so, as “the school environment is critical,” Carpenter said.
“We’ve forgotten that nurturing is an important part of caring for children,” Carpenter went on, “Schools need a structure in place before phoning the professional.”
“We’re preparing them for life. We are charged as teachers to help raise students for adulthood,” Carpenter stressed. Digital native students are facing challenges that the current generation of educators has never faced, including marginalization, isolation, bullying, academic challenges, behavioral difficulties, and stigma (McMillan J.M. and Jarvic J.M., 2013).
Carpenter explained, “We’ve got to start thinking about cyber bullying. In the past, children left the bullying at school. The student would go home, have dinner, talk about it with their parents, and then start the next day. Now, there’s no chance for relaxing. Text messages come through, the bullying goes home. Facebook messages come through. They never relax at home, they rest fitfully.”
This creates anxiety during a stage of adolescence that is already a difficult transitional period in its own right without additional bullying and challenges. The result is a student who is unable to function as he or she should in the classroom.
“Anxiety is a key block to learning. It can prevent the imprint on the brain.”
Perhaps in a land far away from the problems of our home countries, parents and educators could begin to believe international schools aren’t facing the same dilemmas, but Carpenter explained the crisis in mental health is coming to it’s boiling point all over the world.
Depression is expected to be the most prevalent childhood disorder by 2020, (Pretis and Dimova, 2008, and Knapp et al, 2007)
“More people die from suicide in Australia than from skin cancer. Men are three times more likely to kill themselves than women, and suicide is the leading cause of death in men” (2009 ABS Cause of Death).
“There are 2 million children in the EU caring for a parent with a mental health problem” (Pretis and Dimova, 2013).
The British Medical Association reported that “20% of children and teenager experienced mental health problems at some point.”
And in China, 50% of left-behind children suffer depression and anxiety, compared with 30% of their urban peers.
Carpenter explained that the current state of child mental health services is insufficient, with many countries lacking qualified psychiatrists. In the whole of China, there are only 14,000 qualified psychiatrists for the entire mental health industry.
Changing the Course
Mental health experts believe that the first big challenge “is to tackle perceptions so that mental health problems no longer carry a stigma for children,” Carpenter quoted Dr. Zheng Yi.
Carpenter is a part of that fight and encouraged educators, citing the fact that political figures are taking part in this call for more attention to be placed on mental health issues, namely Prince William, his wife, Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge, and Prince Harry. Together these three in the royal family are “spearheading mental health through #headstogether” said Carpenter.
Their goal is to change mental health from a dirty word to a common topic in the same way eating and exercise are talked about. “We all have mental health like we do physical health, good or ill. Not seeking help at those times when it all seems too much, or we are depressed or anxious, can impact the rest of our lives,” Carpenter Prince William, World Mental Health Day, October 11, 2016.
In relation to this topic, Carpenter is currently pushing for UK legislation that would provide the funds for further research into the marks and tell-tell signs of Autism in girls. Autism in boys is diagnosed at a higher rate in boys than in girls because the test study samples were made up entirely of boys.
Autism is diagnosed in females most often in adulthood, after a mental health issue has been discovered. But early intervention is key to preventing these major mental health issues from developing. Without a strong research base to see what the early signs are, the prevalence of 1:4, girls to boys, will continue to plague the industry.
“Women with autism tend to write about their experiences, such as Temple Grandin. They’re more communicative. Their social dimensions are markedly different, and they have a coping mechanism of camouflaging with better social intuition than what is seen in males,” Carpenter explained when we sat down together.
Women whose autism goes undiagnosed often become involved in relationships that are incredibly abusive or inappropriate and develop unexplained obsessions with others in a relationship. They tend to be intense, having one friend or significant other, and wanting that same friend to be just as exclusive.
In one study, gangs that had groomed females for sexually activity found that many of these females had an undiagnosed form of Autism.
Carpenter, along with others, will be hosting a conference called Girls on the Autism Spectrum: The Big Shout, meant to rally educators, parents and delegates to push for this UK legislation.
Educators and Parents Can Take Action
As legislation begins to change around the globe, with the UK leading the way, parents, educators, and administration can take actions now to help support their students.
Primarily, relationships with supportive family members, aunts, uncles, and especially grandparents are of the utmost importance. “Relationships with grandparents have profound impacts,” Carpenter mentioned.
Describing his own experience he said, “You stand back more, you let toys go everywhere and allow children to be children. It’s a listening relationship and there’s a connection to family history. I told my grandson that the tricycle in our garage is his daddy’s tricycle, and now he can play with it.”
This creates a deep, emotional relationship.
Carpenter acknowledged that in today’s era, families are self-defined and fluid, so it’s important for parents to find friends to fulfill these more “traditional” functions.
Teachers and parents together can “encourage children, offer unconditional praise, and help with emotional resilience.”
Emotional resilience means helping children cope with sadness, finding out what makes them happy, and learning the tools to turn to friends or others when they are facing difficulties.
Carpenter praised Chinese mothers he had observed on his flight to Beijing for their high quality of nurturing, and encouraged parents to “get back into the fad” of attachment-type parenting.
Personally Touched by Additional Education Needs
Carpenter is the proud father and best friend of a lovely daughter, Kate, 31, who is incredibly independent despite the challenges Down Syndrome has thrown at her.
“She is the author of her own books, which teach reading without speech, using pictures to share stories.”
When referring to Kate he said, she has a strong work ethic. She continues to pursue her education by enrolling in college courses in cooking, IT, and photography. Though her written communication is not as strong as her sign language, she does send him daily texts or emails.
She even lives in a flat with two friends in the same village as her sister, which is wonderful, since she considers “being an aunt the greatest pride in her life.”
Kate is incredibly caring and can remember anyone’s birthday, which Carpenter knows to call her if he needs a reminder.
Together they visit track and field matches and act as cheerleaders together, traveling throughout Europe.
“Kate’s a daddy’s girl. I actually really enjoy being with her. She’s a good friend. I get her, and she gets me.”
You can find out mare about Barry Carpenter and his work at www.barrycarpentereducation.com.
Prepare Yourself in Beijing
Make sure to come to Beijing International School Expo (BISE) to meet schools that are proactive in addressing Additional Educational Needs. Here are questions to ask schools when there.
- What support are teachers offered in identifying when a student needs further help emotionally or academically?
- Do you have an English and Chinese school counselor?
- What further supports are available if the need is beyond your counselor’s professional capabilities?
- What type of support do you provide for parents in supporting their students?
- 2017 BISE: Take a Peek at the Schools Already Confirmed
Photos: Barry Carpenter, publicdomain.net, Rsaacdemy.org