According to NHS statistics released last year, one in six 6 to 19-year-olds were suffering from probable mental health disorders in 2021. It is also reported that one in six of 17 – 19-year-olds were suffering from mental health disorders. What happens to those children without a diagnosis?
Children’s Mental Health And The UK Education System
Coupling the statistics mentioned above, we cannot ignore the importance of having an understanding of mental health among those in charge of schools. The simple fact of the matter is school is a great place to pick up on these things early on.
Early warning signs that someone is struggling with their mental health tend to be things such as changes in behaviour, changes in appetite, changes in their level of interest, and changes in levels of personal care. All of these things can be picked up at school, by all staff members. When you see someone five days out of the week, you are in a position to notice any significant changes.
The worst-case scenario is that nothing is significantly wrong with the student. They might think their teacher is overdramatic. The best-case scenario is that a child who is struggling feels heard and gets the help they need. The alternative is a child left to struggle alone and make life-altering decisions without the right support.
My mental health really started to deteriorate when I was around 16 years old. I had an incredibly low opinion of myself. Crying in my room every night after having not cried for as long as I could remember. I cut off a relationship as a result and used that as an excuse for why I had been feeling so out of sorts.
I never confided in anyone about how I was feeling. Simply because I didn’t have the understanding nor the vocabulary to express what was happening mentally.
As a result of poor mental health I dropped out of school during my A-levels. It happened 11 years ago, but I remember it like it was yesterday.
I couldn’t cope with what was going on with my head. Everything that came with school; A-levels and UCAS applications. My instinct was to run away from it all. I made my decision and told my parents and school.
My parents were understandably worried. Not just about what prompted my decision, but also about what my future was going to be. This wasn’t something that they had planned for and not something that they had seen coming.
Despite their stress and worry, they kept trying to find out what the matter was, what had prompted my decision and how they could help. Despite their questions and concern, I couldn’t tell them. I couldn’t even work out for myself why I was doing what I was doing.
A conversation changed things
The conversation that really stands out for me is the one I had with a teacher. My sixth form wasn’t very big, so it was noticeable when a student decided they weren’t coming back for the second year.
The news of me dropping out prompted a teacher of mine to come and talk to me. However, it didn’t feel like a conversation, rather I was being cornered and pressured.
I was already fragile and defensive, what I perceived to be a confrontation caused me to clam up completely. The gist of the teacher’s point was that it cost the school money when students didn’t complete both years of the sixth form and that I should rethink my decision because of that.
You probably don’t need me to tell you dear reader that that moving speech about my school’s financial situation did not make me change my mind. Instead, I doubled down in the certainty I had regarding my decision. Sixteen-year-old me was so angry and hurt that the school apparently cared more about a couple of hundred quid than the wellbeing of its students.
I had loved school since I started at 5 years old, but at that moment I hated it. I couldn’t wait to leave, and because no one had figured out why I was leaving, I foolishly thought it would solve all the problems I had. Spoiler alert: it didn’t.
All of this is to say how important having a basic level of understanding of child and adolescent mental health issues among education staff is. My life could look incredibly different now if just one
teacher at my school had received basic training in how mental health issues present in school-aged children. It’s important to point out that I do not blame the teachers I had for not noticing, for the most part, all of the teachers I had over the years were great. They were kind, compassionate, and enthusiastic about teaching. It was – and is – the government and the lack of training that is the problem.
It isn’t hard to see that there is a crisis of mental health among young people, especially those in a schooling environment. There needs to be much more support for teaching staff in the form of funding and training.
That can only be achieved when the government truly understands the gravity of the situation and start granting mental health services the funding they so desperately need.
If you are a student and you are reading this and resonating with this story, know that you are not alone. The internet truly can be your friend. There are many social media groups and pages that really feel like a proper community.
Just remember, very few decisions you have to make actually run the risk of ruining your life. Decisions you make about your education certainly won’t ruin things. You got this.