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How to tackle anxiety and mental health in school

What can schools do about the increasing issue of anxiety and other mental health issues that many children are now suffering from? This is an important question for all schools and educators. Beverly Smalley, Education Specialist at TTS Group, looks at ways teachers can recognise the issues at hand and what they can do to effectively support those suffering.

 

In a recent survey of wellbeing by PISA (Programme for International Student Assessment) for children aged 15, the UK came 38th out of 48 countries in terms of how happy they felt. This shows the scale of the issue at hand - which begs the question: In our relatively affluent society, what is causing these problems? Why are young people so unhappy and why does it seem to be an increasing factor for this particular generation?

Looking at the facts - there seem to be two major differences between now and the previous generation: social media and heightened school pressures. 

 

Social mediaSad boy on phone - mental health issues

The biggest and most obvious difference is the rise and absolute dominance of social media. This is almost certainly a factor in the mental health decline we are seeing. It can lead to anxiety in so many ways and with the rise of influencers, young people are constantly comparing themselves and everything they do with celebrities and their lavish lifestyle, leaving many feeling worthless.

As social media platforms are available 24 hours a day, 365 days a year - it is almost impossible to get away from, with many only really switching off once they are asleep.

School pressures

In the UK, we test children from the minute they start school and assess them on an almost daily basis. Many young children are given excessive amounts of homework very early with a vast curriculum, which is simply overwhelming to students.

Things like being graded and scored against other students and can be a source of embarrassment for some students who don’t perform as well in written examinations or when under extreme pressure.

Schools and teachers are also under a great amount of pressure from the government and because of this, around one in five teachers (18%) are expected to leave the classroom in less than two years and two-fifths of teachers, school leaders and support staff want to quit in the next five years – blaming “out of control” workload pressures and “excessive” accountability, according to a poll by the country’s biggest teaching union.

A number of teachers agree that the UK should adopt the Scottish Curriculum for Excellence which puts wellbeing at the heart of learning, stating:

‘The responsibilities of all include each practitioner’s role in establishing open, positive, supportive relationships across the school community, where children and young people will feel that they are listened to, and where they feel secure in their ability to discuss sensitive aspects of their lives; in promoting a climate in which children and young people feel safe and secure; in modelling behaviour which promotes health and wellbeing and encouraging it in others; through using learning and teaching methodologies which promote effective learning; and by being sensitive and responsive to the wellbeing of each child and young person’

They also like the idea of each child having a specific member of staff for each child who they can rely on in any situation but specifically for mental health and resilience help. Although, this is difficult to really put into practice.

With the ever-growing concerns about mental health, let’s hope that schools somehow manage to make it more of a priority despite the huge external pressures they are under; not just giving a nod to it or ticking another box, but so that pupils know their concerns and wellbeing really are taken seriously. It’s too late for my daughter; she will look back on those formative years and feel the school system failed her. There must be change or we are stacking up huge problems for the future.

 

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