By Cassandra Coburn, The Lancet, August 30, 2019
Finland's educational system is routinely praised as among the best in the world, achieving superb results through methods regarded by other scholastic systems as unorthodox. Among the differences that single it out for praise is the delayed start to education, with compulsory schooling beginning with a pre-primary education for children at 6 years old, and full-time schooling only starting at age 7. In contrast to the battery of tests faced by children elsewhere in the world, there is only one mandatory standardised test, taken at age 16. Commentators coo over the low amount of homework pupils are given, and the high regard in which teachers are held. But one of the most surprising—and important—aspects of schooling in Finland doesn't make it to the headlines: the provision of social and health care for students from within schools themselves. Nowhere is this more crucial than in increasing capacity to help children with mental health disorders.
The burden of poor mental health in children and adolescents is increasing around the world. According to a report by the UK National Health Service, around one in eight (13%) children and adolescents in England and Wales aged 5–19 years had at least one mental disorder when assessed in 2017. The same report found that, using comparable data that examined mental health disorders in those aged 5–15 years, the frequency of mental health disorders had risen from 9·7% in 1999 to 11·2% in 2017. Appropriate provision of mental health care for children and adolescents is vital: research has shown that young people who experience mental health problems are more likely to have disrupted schooling and issues with attaining and retaining future employment, as well as being more likely to become young offenders, have substance addiction, or otherwise be involved with problems with the law. However, appropriate provision of mental health care is harder to achieve for children than for adults because of children's lack of autonomy and inability to engage directly with the health-care system.