A recent survey published by the largest teachers’ union in the UK, NASUWT has revealed that children as young as four are being plagued with mental health problems.
Almost every single teacher surveyed (98%) said that they have come into contact with pupils who suffer from mental health problems such as panic attacks, anxiety and depression. However, schools are struggling to access the adequate support needed to help deal with the increase.
While childhood should be a happy and stress-free time, many teachers noted signs of mental health problems in their students. For example, 58% of teachers say that they have seen issues in 15 to 16-year-olds, 35% are aware of problems amongst pupils aged between 7 and 11, and 18% of teachers surveyed have noticed children between the ages of 4 and 7 exhibit signs or a problem.
The survey also revealed:
- 91% of teachers said they have experienced pupils suffering from anxiety and panic attacks
- 79% are aware of children suffering from depression
- 64% knew of young people self-harming
- 49% are aware of students with eating disorders
- 47% know of a child with obsessive compulsive disorder.
The General Secretary of NASUWT, Chris Keates has warned that as there is a lack of availability of experts and counselling to help these young children, it’s having a dramatic impact on their schooling.
What’s causing mental health problems in young children?
The experiences of childhood have changed considerably over the last 30 to 40 years. It’s thought that a combination of modern-day realities have contributed towards the rise in the number of children suffering from mental illnesses.
Higher divorce rates
It’s not uncommon for parents to separate and many children come from homes where their parents are no longer together. 91% of teachers say that family problems such as ill health or break-ups are having an impact on young people.
This may be because they’re struggling to come to terms with the fact that their mum and dad are no longer together, they blame themselves for the separation, they’ve witnessed arguing, they’ve been separated from siblings or are struggling to cope with new living arrangements.
Social media has long been cited as one of the biggest culprits of rising anxiety levels amongst children in the UK. With young and impressionable children accessing images of perfection on a regular basis, some simply cannot cope with the pressure of feeling like they need to look good at all times.
72% of teachers feel that social media is playing a big part in the rising number of mental health issues in schools. The expectations these channels generate can be overwhelming, such as:
- Needing to have the most friends online, or receiving likes and comments on photos
- Seeing others doing fun things together and not being invited
- Feeling there’s no escape - people are constantly on show.
The impact of school
Children may feel anxious about going to school, doing homework, the friendships they have or bullying. The likelihood of any of these occurring increases dramatically when a child starts a new school or moves up a year.
84% of teachers surveyed by NASUWT say the pressure of exams is contributing towards mental illness, 71% say there is too much pressure to perform academically and 36% feel that bullying plays a big role.
Speaking about the growing problem, Keates commented:
“Teachers and school leaders take their duty of care to their students very seriously and it’s clear there is a great deal of concern in the profession about the gulf in the availability of expert physiological support and counselling for pupils with mental health needs. The Prime Minister has pledged to improve mental health support for pupils but schools cannot address this issue alone and cuts to budgets and services in local authorities, health and education have all taken a heavy toll on the support available.”