BEING a teenager in Britain today is challenging with young people facing issues ranging from being pressurised to grow up too quickly to being anxious at school.

Occasionally these can lead to children suffering serious and debilitating mental health difficulties.

Sadly rates of depression and anxiety have increased by a staggering 70 per cent among teenagers over the last 25 years and on average, every classroom in Britain has three children with a diagnosable mental health illness.

One charity determined to improve the situation is Action for Children, whose Blues Programme is part of the organisation’s Build Sound Minds campaign which encourages positive conversation and good mental health.

Internationally acclaimed, the evidence-based ‘blues busting’ course for teenagers aims to reduce the signs of adolescent low mood and negative thoughts, and promote prevention over a period of six weeks.

Currently being delivered in 37 schools across the UK and funded by Royal Mail, a massive 70 per cent of pupils who have taken part so far showed an improvement in their mental health and emotional wellbeing, with a specific decrease in depression.

Pupils also reported increased confidence and self-esteem, improved relationships and better engagement at school.

“I was quite nervous about attending the sessions,” said 13-year-old Mia Collins, a pupil at Flint High School, who attended the Blues Programme after suffering from a mixture of low self-esteem and confidence. “I didn’t know quite what to expect but after the first session my mind was put to rest as it was fun and engaging, and the people that were running the program were really friendly.

“I think every student should have the opportunity to take part in the Blues Programme. It has made me really think about my feelings and emotions and more importantly what I can do when I start to feel anxious or stressed.

“Completing activities like the mood diary I found really interesting and already I have looked through the pack of help activities several times since completing the last session. I have even shared them with my friends.”

The six-week course involves weekly one-hour group sessions at school with home practice assignments.

Weekly activity sessions build group rapport, cognitive restructuring techniques, followed by a range of coping strategies. Home practice assignments apply the skills learnt to daily life.

Courses are run by a trained Action for Children ‘Blues’ specialist, known as ‘blues busters’.

“It was great to have the opportunity to speak amongst a small group and in a safe and secure environment where pupils listened to me and I listened to other pupils,” continued Mia. “I do think talking helps and this program has definitely shown me that.

“I think one thing I have learnt from this experience is to actually stop and think about the situation before I react.

“It has also helped me identify when I’m feeling anxious or stressed and it allows me to calm myself down before I begin to feel any of these emotions.”

Action for Children marked this year’s Children’s Mental Health Week (February 4-10) by showcasing its services for young people’s mental health in Wales at the Pierhead Building at the Welsh Assembly yesterday.

The Build Sound Minds event, sponsored by Rhianon Passmore AM, was an opportunity to hear from young people who have benefitted from the charity’s services and speak to staff who are in the frontline delivering the projects that are improving the mental health issues so many children and young people are confronted with.

Last month Welsh Health Minister, Vaughan Gething AM pledged an additional £7.1m to help protect, improve and support the mental health of children and young people in Wales.

Helen Jones, a teacher at Flint High School, said: “I think mental health can affect everybody and with growing pressures on grades and results I believe that mental health issues will become ever more prevalent in schools.

“I am not sure whether schools are fully prepared to deal with rising mental health issues and I believe that as we are working so closely with young children then we should have extra help and support in place.

“I do think that social media has a massive effect on the mental health of our young people around us, however this cannot be the sole party to blame.

“Within the area of Flint there are many social issues but again this cannot be solely to blame. Society is changing and advancing, yet we seem to remain in the dark about mental health.”

Ms Jones said the reaction from pupils had taken her by surprise but more than justified the decision to bring the programme into the school.

“I’ve had several of the young people that took part in the programme come to me and comment on how exciting and interesting the course has been,” she said. “In my pigeonhole one day I had a note from a student saying ‘thank you so much for putting me on the Blues Programme. I have learnt so much and it has helped me so much’ followed by a big smiling face!

“Students also said they were lucky and that they now know how to handle their own feelings. Another one mentioned how they are now able to stop overthinking things and to see the positive in the situation.

“I do think that initially some students are little bit nervous about taking part because the words ‘mental health’ were mentioned.

“Again I think this is part of the problem as students may not realise that they may have mental health issues.

“Also topics like depression stress and anxiety are often taboo subjects and this is part of the problem about mental health.

“We as a school have got to be leading and demonstrating that talking about mental health is not a problem and can only lead to help pupils and young people.

“The programme was an inspiration and we always value having experts coming into school to talk to our young people.

“We would very much like to have the Blues Programme come in again to speak to as many year groups as possible and to reach out with many young people as possible.

“Such a fantastic program should be promoted and every school should have access to it.”