Is mental health in schools handled effectively?

One in five young adults in the UK have been diagnosed with a mental health disorder with around half of all mental illnesses manifesting by as young as 14 years, reaching a staggering 75% appearing by 24. With such a vast amount of the population living with a mental health disorder, why is the subject still such a controversial topic of discussion?

In 2017 alone 6,188 suicides have been recorded in the UK. In England, female suicides are at their highest point that they’ve been for over a decade. However, males are more likely to commit suicide overall.

In an aim to tackle the stigma surrounding mental health disorders in the youth, their royal highnesses Prince William, Prince Harry and the Duchess of Cambridge, Kate have joined forces with the charity “Headstogether”, a collation of eight different charities that have joined together in an effort to give the support to all those in need of help.

Taking their lead, Prime Minister, Theresa May also released a statement addressing the current lack of effective support in place for young people in regards to their mental health. She stated that “Every school is to get mental health support under new plans”, should this go ahead, Theresa May will be marking the largest change in mental health legislation for over 30 years. May is said to want to completely scrap the current mental health act as it is “no longer fit for purpose”.

With this promise of better support for students within their schools, for many it will be hard for them to believe. On social media, a number of students have been voicing their own concerns about the state of care within schools for those suffering from anxiety and depression. Facebook user and GCSE student, Emma Jameson shocked many readers with her report about how students are handling the stress surrounding exams and deadlines. She revealed that it wasn’t an unusual sight to see students crying in toilets and claimed that she’s “kind of got used to people breaking down in the middle of a lesson”.

This comes as she describes the switch that GCSE students are facing with their exams and teaching styles, with the old and familiar use of the A*-U letter grading system being replaced by a 9-1 number system. The new style means a drastic change to the students curriculum, instead of having to write essays and take the normal GCSE papers, they are now required to memorise two books, a play and around fifteen poems, as well as a vast amount of formula’s. Emma described the new exams as a “test of memory if nothing else”, rather than working to their own ability and learning, students are being taught mainly on what the examiner would like to hear.

She claims that while the teachers do try their best to help the students and to try and make it easier for them, they understand that there isn’t much that the teachers can do and feel that it is the government who is putting the pressure on the education system, regardless of how it affects the students mental health from the stress of not doing well.

Similarly, the attitude and recognition towards anxiety and depression in another school in the UK came under fire in the media recently after one of the sixth form teachers of The Norton Knatchbull School sent an email that left parents furious. Students had been missing lessons due to their own anxieties and depression which prompted a teacher to mass email telling the students that feeling “low” was not an excuse to be out of class and that they should “suck it up cupcake” and to “deal with it like the mature adults you think you are”. This response understandably left the parents livid with how the school was undermining their children’s struggle with their mental health.

The head teacher of the grammar school released her own statement apologising on behalf of the teacher and head of sixth form, stating that “the school takes its students welfare, including mental wellbeing very seriously” and that they “have a strong pastoral support team in place which is dedicated to the welfare of all our students”. However the school declined to respond to any contact with me over the incident to see how the students are feeling with the new support.

Young minds mental health statistics show that three in four young persons with mental health disorders do not get the support they need. With six months of waiting and even once seen by a professional, it could be nearly ten months before they actually start their treatment. This lack of support is one of the reasons why young people and students find it harder to get the help and to deal with their anxiety, depression and panic attacks, especially around exam season when they have more on their plates than an average school day and three children in every classroom have a diagnosable mental disorder.

Studies also show that only 0.7% of the NHS budget is currently spent on mental health, and with government spending cuts still on a high, whether this will reduce further is yet unknown. Only a further 16% of this mental health budget is spent on the early intervention. An extremely low figure when compared to the suicide rates within the UK and with one in twelve of these young people also turning to self harm. Girls are statistically more likely to resort to self harm than males.

I, myself have suffered with anxiety and depression, my own experiences whilst at school in Northampton school for Girls, were mostly positive with the exception of one moment where a teacher rolled her eyes at me during my panic attack. However, how I was treated overall in my sixth form was positive. There was a great support team with the vast majority of staff who would stop and help you in a moment if you were feeling panicked or upset. The cause of my anxiety at this time naturally came down to exam stress and the fear of failing.

The girls school in Northampton features the welfare of all of their students on their website under policies as saying that they “have a nurturing and caring ethos where all girls belong, feel secure and value the support and guidance offered by all staff within the school” as a key focus in the development of students.

Part of the Northampton school for Girls’ support included an organisation called the Lowdown, a team working by referrals from teachers and doctors to tackle student worries and mental health, assessing each problem individually and using cognitive behaviour therapy.

With it being so close to exams, I created my own survey In order to fully assess and gain more insight into the most common pattern of issues that students are dealing with whilst at school with their mental health disorders. Out of the subjects who responded, it was found that 90% had or suffer from anxiety, depression or panic attacks in school. The majority of these students came to fear going to school for the unknown of when a panic attack would happen or being laughed at by their peers. Out of all students asked, only one student was able to say for definite that it was a staff member who helped them and not a fellow student, this shows that the students may not feel they are completely supported and understood over their mental health enough to be able to ask a teacher.

If students aren’t feeling that they are coping well or have concerns about their mental health, it’s advised to see your GP who could then refer you to the NHS wellbeing team who have  “psychological therapy is a government initiative to make sure that patients with common mental health problems are treated in a timely way with guided self help based on the principles of cognitive behavioural therapy. Offering a face to face therapy, the team has a self referral number that anyone can ring and then will be offered screening, leading to the patient being offered a choice of services. Many patients who are experiencing exam stress access the service.”

It is clear that mental health disorders, especially in the younger age groups are at their problematic height. With suicide rates among teens and diagnostics on the constant rise, it is of the utmost importance that the government follows through on their promise of providing more support in schools for students suffering from a mental health disorder and with the help of the royals behind the “headstogether” charity, more and more people will be able to break the stigma of mental illness and help patients be able to communicate and ask for help when they are feeling these things. With teams already in place such as the Lowdown and wellbeing NHS, there are places for students to contact should they feel they can’t talk to family, friends or their school about their anxieties.