A newly-published survey of head teachers says the number of children are self-harming or harbouring suicidal thoughts is growing, because mental health problems amongst pupils are rising.
A survey of 338 schools in the UK, revealed 55% of staff said they had experienced a large increase in cases of anxiety and stress – while more than 40% reported a big increase in cyber-bullying.
The survey, conducted jointly by the Association of School and College Leaders – which represents secondary school heads – and the National Children’s Bureau – also reported that nearly eight out of 10 schools (nearly 80%) reported an increase in the number of pupils self-harming or having suicidal thoughts.
At the same time as mental health problems were increasing, nearly two-thirds of schools (65%) reported that it was becoming more difficult to access mental health care from local services.
Malcolm Trobe, acting general secretary of ASCL, reported
Our survey shows a serious gap in mental health services beyond the school gates. The fact is children today face an extraordinary range of pressures. They live in a world of enormously high expectations, where new technologies present totally new challenges such as cyber-bullying. There has seldom been a time when specialist mental health care is so badly needed and yet it often appears to be the poor relation of the health service.
Early intervention is essential before problems become entrenched and start to increase in severity. These services are a vital lifeline that many young people cannot do without.”
The survey’s findings were supported this week by mental health campaigners with Lucie Russell, director of campaign at the mental health charity Young Minds saying:
We shouldn’t underestimate the huge amount of pressure young people today face: family breakdown, stress at school, body image issues, early sexualisation, 24/7 online networking, bullying on and offline and uncertainty about the future after school are all piling on the stress.
To make matters worse when young people are struggling it can be extremely difficult for them to get the support they need.”
She added that services were ”a postcode lottery with unacceptably long waiting times in many areas.“
Anna Feuchtwang, chief executive of the NCB, added:
It is alarming that teachers are seeing ever-growing numbers of children self-harming or having suicidal thoughts. For these young people, and many others like them, their psychological states are almost too much to bear.
While schools are doing their best to help, in cases where children are in acute need they require specialist mental health services to step in and provide support. Unfortunately, teachers say that limited capacity in these services often makes referrals very difficult.”
The survey’s evidence comes on top of concerns expressed by the Commons select committee of health that many schools were finding the threshold for triggering action to help pupils was “unreasonably high” .
The results of the survey support concerns that there are worryingly high levels of mental health and well-being issues among young people and that the prevalence of these issues has increased during the past five years. It is also noted that the prevalence of the relatively new phenomenon of cyber-bullying has significantly increased over that time.”