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Teachers Say it’s Time to Stop Ignoring the Mental Health Needs of Young People

A recent study carried out by mental health charity, stem4 found 1 in 5 students are now experiencing mental health difficulties due to the pandemic, and because of lack of money, and the NHS being overwhelmed, the care of these students is falling back onto teachers.

stem4 has free apps and resources to help.

stem4 wristbands

Mental health surveys: there are a lot of them about right now!  Understanding why so many young people are experiencing increased mental health difficulty is important.  Perhaps more crucial is understanding the challenges faced by schools and colleges in providing the mental health support young people need, particularly if we are to deliver services that can protect the mental health of this young generation now and in the future.

Data collected from surveys can also help us to monitor changes over time and highlight the issues that are often missed from bigger picture findings.  This is why youth mental health charity stem4, founded by Dr Nihara Krause, Consultant Clinical Psychologistconducts surveys of the people, who day in and day out, deal with the mental health difficulties experienced by young people. Teachers and parents play a key role in supporting children and young people’s mental health, whilst also strengthening their resilience to deal with on-going and future challenges.

The survey of 500 teachers, working in primary and secondary schools, sixth form and further education colleges across the UK, that forms the basis of stem4’s recent report Mental Health Pressures Push Schools and Colleges to Crisis point,  provides an important snapshot of the current state of children and young people’s mental health in the UK. It contains some shocking, but sadly unsurprising, findings:

Teachers say that five students in a class of 22 (1 in 5) are now experiencing mental health difficulties as a consequence of the pandemic, an increase of 20% in just ten months. Meanwhile, half of all teachers (56%), have feared that at least one of their students will come to harm while waiting for mental health treatment over the last year, compared to one third (32%) in 2018, new figures show.

Over the past eight months, one in five teachers say they have witnessed at least one of their students showing suicidal (16%) and self-harm (21%) behaviours. Nearly nine in ten (88%) teachers say they have seen pupils suffer from anxiety, and almost half (46%) have witnessed a student with depression. Other common problems include emotional and behaviour disorders (ADHD), aggression and concentration issues (41%), eating disorders (22%), addiction (12%), obsessive compulsive disorders (OCD) (11%), and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) (8%).

Most teachers predict that the longstanding mental health crisis will bring schools and colleges to breaking point as young people suffer from the effects of the pandemic. Seven in ten (73%) teachers say the pandemic has impacted their school’s or college’s ability to deliver its mental health strategy, leaving some students with little or no mental health support.

Teachers now refer one in three (29%) students with mental health difficulties to NHS mental health services :

–      34% say referrals are routinely rejected because they do not meet the threshold of severity.

–      31% say waiting lists are closed in their area

–      29% say referrals are refused because local NHS mental health services have not resumed at full capacity as a result of the pandemic.

Teachers say only half (47%) of students with mental health difficulties are able to access the treatment they need to get well, leaving schools to bear the mounting costs of children’s and young people’s untreated mental health conditions.   A quarter (25%) of teachers say they tell parents to find their own expert mental health support for their child, and 17% tell parents to pay to see someone privately if they can afford to do so.

One teacher told the survey “We are fighting a losing battle. There is never enough time to deal with the mental health of students, we can’t afford extra counsellors, the NHS waits are too long.”    Another teacher said: ”Teachers have been left with the additional task of treating mental health issues for children in schools. We have no training for this, no additional time given and no money.”   

With such a clear demand for help from young people during this time, and teachers and the NHS under enormous strain, stem4 has responded by providing a range of targeted resources to support education professionals and young people:  These include:

  • Free on-line webinars for teachers addressing anxiety, depression and resilience – the next webinar addressing depression will be held on 26 April 2021 at 3pm on Zoom.
  • Head Ed a new, free mental health literacy teaching resource for secondary school or college PSHE.
  • Free NHS evidence-based, smartphone apps.  stem4 has developed four NHS-approved smartphone apps, all based on evidence-based strategies, to help young people in the treatment of and recovery from their mental health difficulties.

These apps – which have been funded by charities including the Paul Hamlyn Foundation and Comic Relief, and by generous donations from individuals – are free to use, and do not collect any personal data. They include:

  • Clear Fear, which uses the evidence-based treatment Cognitive Behaviour Therapy (CBT) to help manage the symptoms of anxiety;
  • Calm Harm, which uses the basic principles of an evidence-based therapy Dialectic Behaviour Therapy (DBT) to help manage the urge to self-harm;
  • Combined Minds, which uses a Strengths-Based approach that has been shown to be effective in recovery, providing practical strategies for families and friends to support teenage mental health;
  • Move Mood, which uses Behavioural Activation Therapy to help improve low mood and manage the symptoms of depression.

Important Information:  Please note, stem4 apps are an aid to treatment but do not replace it. Apps are not a substitute for seeing a mental health professional/GP, see a suitably qualified professional for assessment and advice on treatment.

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