The vast majority of teenagers say they experience “emotional distress” after starting secondary school but claim teachers don’t have the skills to help them, research has found.
Four in every five 12- to 16-year-olds in the survey said they felt they had mental health problems but just one in 20 would turn to a teacher for help if they felt depressed, anxious, stressed or emotionally unable to cope.
The poll of 500 secondary school pupils, for the teenage mental health charity stem4, comes as MPs were warned that schools had only a “patchy” ability to pick up and prevent mental health problems in pupils.
The parliamentary health and education committees, which are carrying out an inquiry into the role of schools in promoting mental health, heard this month that while all of them intended to provide mental health support for their pupils, only around half provided counselling, and funded it – and in most cases this was only for one day a week or less.
However, according to the new survey, what most teenagers want is easy access to mental health professionals rather than being “patched up” by teachers with little training.
Only a third of young people think mental health first aid training for teachers is a good idea, and 36% say the initiative is “woefully inadequate”, because one teacher in a school of over 1,000 would make no difference.
One in five teenagers would prefer to see properly trained mental health professionals in school rather than a teacher, and a third want to see the creation of dedicated young people’s health hubs – away from school – where they can seek help anonymously.
Nihara Krause, a consultant clinical psychologist and founder of stem4, said: “More and more young people are now willing to admit that they struggle to cope emotionally with the challenges of daily life, which are posing much greater levels of stress.
“High levels of stress, if not dealt with at an early stage, are likely to lead to more serious problems in later life. We’ve known for a long time that young people’s health services are at crisis point, barely dealing with moderate to severe psychological problems.
“Young people need better access to early interventions provided by properly trained mental health professionals who can either deal with these problems directly or make referrals to appropriate secondary services.”
The survey found that 79% of children as young as 12 and 13 now experience emotional distress after starting secondary school. Top of the list of anxieties is exam worries (41% of pupils), followed by work overload (31%), friendship concerns (28%), worries about being accepted by peers (23%), lack of confidence (26%), concerns about body image (26%), low self-esteem (15%) and feelings of being overwhelmed (25%).
A third of parents fear that mental health issues will leave their children unable to enjoy their teenage years; however, just 40% are confident that they could identify problems in their child.
– Rachel Ellis
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