More than 60 per cent of young people with mental health have found their mental health worsening since they have returned to school, according to a survey by YoungMinds.
A survey of 2,011 11-18 year olds with a history of mental health needs for the children and young people’s mental health charity found that only 27% of young people said that their mental health had got better since their return to education. However, 61 per cent sad it had got worse.
While 15% agreed that there was enough information and support available for their mental health at their school, 58% disagreed. Almost a quarter of respondents (23%) said that there was less mental health support in their school than before the pandemic, while only 9% agreed that there was more mental health support.
Emma Thomas, Chief Executive of YoungMinds, said: “The pandemic has put a huge strain on many young people who were already struggling with their mental health, because of traumatic experiences, social isolation, a loss of routine and a breakdown in formal and informal support.”
The research suggests that schools face intense pressure to prioritise academic catch-up and safety measures, and that many do not have sufficient resources to make wellbeing and mental health a priority.
The survey reveals that:
- 69% of respondents described their mental health as poor now that they are back at school; this has risen from 58% who described their mental health as poor before returning to school.
- 40% of respondents said that there was no school counsellor available to support students in their school
- Only 27% had had a one-to-one conversation with a teacher or another member of staff in which they were asked about their wellbeing, by the time they completed the survey.
WillisPalmer launched a Children’s Charter prior to students returning to school. In the Charter, we called for:
- All vulnerable children to have a one-to-one ‘welcome back’ session with a member of staff trained in child protection and safeguarding on return to education to enable them to discuss any issues they may have about returning to school or their experiences during lockdown.
- All children returning to school should have a one-to-one session with a member of staff eg, their teacher, TA, or a member of the pastoral team, welcoming them back with an opportunity to discuss any concerns about returning to school/problems they may have encountered during lockdown.
- Counsellors and therapists based in schools should have an ‘open afternoon’ whereby pupils can drop in discreetly and discuss any problems they may be experiencing as a result of returning to school or as a result of lockdown.
- Safeguarding leads to have access to refresher training courses in identifying signs of mental health problems including anxiety, depression, eating disorders, phobias, bipolar disorder, psychosis and body dysmorphia.
- The government must demonstrate a commitment to schools in the long-term to ensure that problems that have been created through the impact of lockdown are tackled as soon as they come to light. Schools should have the funding and access to social work and psychological services to ensure ongoing support, given that many of these issues may be complex and will not emerge – or disappear – overnight.
The research highlighted positives for mental health in the initial return to school, with respondents indicating that seeing friends, having a routine, and seeing their teachers were beneficial. However, many said that the rapid return to academic pressure, after six months away, was having a negative impact. Others raised concerns about safety, social distancing measures, and difficult relationships with peers, including bullying.
YoungMinds strongly welcomes the reopening of schools, but warns that schools urgently need new funding to provide wellbeing and mental health support to meet the growing needs.
Emma Thomas, Chief Executive of YoungMinds, said: “While it’s extremely welcome that secondary schools have reopened, our research shows that young people with mental health problems have often not had a ‘soft landing’ in their first few weeks back. The combination of a rapid return to academic pressure, worries about the pandemic, readjusting to seeing classmates again and too little targeted support has meant that many have struggled to cope.
“This is absolutely not a criticism of schools. We know that they have been under huge pressure and many simply do not have the resources to provide the level of pastoral support that is now required.
“While there has rightly been a focus on academic catch-up, young people can only learn effectively if they are in a good place emotionally. That’s why the government must provide ring-fenced funding for schools to help them prioritise wellbeing and mental health this year.”
YoungMinds is calling for a ring-fenced Resilience Fund, which would ensure schools could commission the mental health and wellbeing support that young people need. The Resilience Fund would sit separately, but complementary to, the £650 million catch-up premium, which is likely to be used specifically for academic support by most schools.
Coronavirus: Impact on Young People with Mental Health Needs