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Education / Body image and exam stress among reasons behind school counselling referrals

EXAM stress, body image and family difficulties are some of the reasons why young people have requested counselling in Shetland’s schools.

By far the most common category for referral is emotional and behavioural issues, with new figures showing 100 requests under this category since the school counselling service launched in October 2020.

But there are also a number of other areas in which young people have sought help. There have been 16 requests where exam stress was a pressing issue, for instance, and 13 for body image.

Other issues include self-harm, bereavement, depression and anxiety, low self-esteem and trauma.

Gender identity and substance use are listed, but as their figures are below five the numbers have been removed to ensure confidentiality.

It comes as a new wellbeing service for children and young people in Shetland is launched this week.

The service, which is called Well Youth, is being led by local mental health charity Mind Your Head with support from NHS Shetland and Shetland Islands Council through Scottish Government funding.

The council’s children services director Helen Budge told a meeting of the education and families committee on Monday that the service was a pilot project.

Meanwhile the universal school counselling service, funded by the Scottish Government, is available to any child or young person aged 10 or over and enrolled in an educational setting.

It has proved busy since its inception in 2020, with some on a waiting list as a result. People of all ages – and across the Shetland – have been supported so far.

The referral data was included in a report called Provision for Children and Young People with Additional Support Needs, which was presented to councillors on Monday.

The report highlighted that additional support needs is a growing area in Shetland, particularly as people start to come through the Covid pandemic.

“There are some children and young people who have weathered the storm with little impact but there are a growing number who are struggling to meet developmental milestones and others who are experiencing difficulties with their emotional wellbeing and mental health,” a covering report added.

“As our knowledge and understanding of the impact grows, we need to respond to this in a timely manner as an early intervention measure and use our resources to support these additional needs as we would with those already described above.”

Inclusion manager Lesley Simpson stressed, though, that a “one size does not fit all” when it comes to supporting young people.

Ten per cent of children in early years and 36 per cent in schools have needs identified within what is called the staged approach of intervention.

Staged intervention begins when a need or a concern is identified that requires assessment and help beyond what is usually delivered to all in the classroom.

The report noted that many children and young people with needs at all stages of intervention have autistic spectrum disorder (ASD).

The number of children with ASD is rising year on year, it adds, and “this rise in neurodiversity must be recognised as a key driver for change”.

There were 60 autism pathway referrals in Shetland in 2021 compared to 29 in 2018.

Committee chairman George Smith said the report was “very timely” – highlighting that early action and intervention is key.

The council’s schools counselling service can be contacted on schoolcounsellingservice@shetland.gov.uk.

Meanwhile NHS Shetland’s mental health team can be contacted on 01595 743006 or shet.mentalhealth@nhs.scot.

The national Breathing Space helpline is available for anyone needing to speak about their thoughts on 0800 838587.

It is open Monday to Thursday 6pm to 2am and Friday to Monday 6pm to 6am.

Contact details for local mental health charity Mind Your Head can be found on its website.