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Teachers fear for students’ mental health in pandemic

TEACHERS say that almost one in five students are now experiencing mental health difficulties as a consequence of the pandemic – an increase of 20% in just ten months.

Meanwhile, half of all teachers (56%), including 46% of teachers in primary school, have feared that at least one of their students will come to harm while waiting for mental health treatment over the last year, compared to one third (32%) in 2018, new figures show.

The survey of 500 teachers by youth mental health charity stem4 reveals the true extent of the children’s and young people’s mental health crisis in Britain.

Over the past five months, one in five teachers say they have witnessed at least one of their students showing suicidal (16%) and self-harm (21%) behaviours.

Nearly nine in ten (88%) teachers say they have seen pupils suffer with anxiety, and almost half (46%) have witnessed a student with depression. Other common problems include emotional and behaviour disorders (ADHD), aggression and concentration issues (41%), eating disorders (22%), addiction (12%), obsessive compulsive disorders (OCD) (11%), and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) (8%).

Most teachers predict that the longstanding mental health crisis will bring schools and colleges to breaking point as young people suffer from the effects off the pandemic. 68% of teachers point to isolation and loneliness, 41% to family difficulties, 47% to academic worries and 33% to food poverty.

Teachers now refer one in three (29%) students with mental health difficulties to NHS mental health services [Children and Adolescent Mental Health Services (CAMHS)]:

–      34% say referrals are routinely rejected because they do not meet the threshold of severity.

–      31% say waiting lists are closed in their area;

–      29% say referrals are refused because local NHS mental health services have not resumed at full capacity as a result of the pandemic.

When it comes to students who are accepted for treatment, teachers warn that three in ten (30%) of their pupil referrals are stuck on waiting lists for nine weeks or more.  This leads half (48%) of teachers to describe existing health and social care services for students with mental health problems as very or extremely inadequate.

As mental ill health among students rises, and NHS waiting lists continue to grow, the survey – which covered primary schools, secondary schools, and further education colleges across the UK – paints a picture of patchy mental health resources and limited referral pathways for the most vulnerable young people.

Teachers say only half (47%) of students with mental health difficulties are able to access the treatment they need to get well, leaving schools to bear the mounting costs of children’s and young people’s untreated mental health conditions.   A quarter (25%) of teachers say they tell parents to find their own expert mental health support for their child, and 17% tell parents to pay to see someone privately if they can afford to do so.

In 2018 Government proposals to improve mental health provision for young people included funding for a senior mental health lead in every school.

The stem4 survey shows that less than half (44%) of schools and colleges currently have a teacher designated as mental health lead.  Just over a quarter (27%) of schools offer some form of early one-to-one counselling, and only (9%) have a comprehensive mental health literacy programme in place.

Dr Nihara Krause, Consultant Clinical Psychologist, founder of stem 4, and creator of apps Calm Harm, Clear Fear, says: “In July 2020 NHS Digital found that 1 in 6 5-16-year-olds had a probable mental disorder, an increase by a third in three years – from 1 in 9 in 2017.   This survey suggests that this official figure underrepresents the reality of what is happening nationally.

“Since the start of the pandemic stem4 has recorded over 540,000 downloads of our free NHS-approved mental health apps: Calm Harm, which helps manage the urge to self-harm, and Clear Fear, which helps manage the symptoms of anxiety.

Just 17% of stem4’s app users are receiving treatment.   During the summer A-level exam results fiasco daily downloads rose from on average 2,000 a day to 12,000 a day.  When we emerge from this third lockdown, we will see mental health distress on an unprecedented scale

“Teachers witness first-hand the devastating impact that isolation, loneliness, family difficulties, education stresses and poverty is having on our children’s and young people’s wellbeing and mental health. The consequences of this can often be serious and life-threatening.

“Teachers are desperate to help, yet the necessary early interventions and specialist services are not in place to minimise their negative effect.

“If this government is serious about turning the tide of mental ill health in this young generation, it needs to take urgent action now. What children and young people need is access to evidence-based services at all levels, from early prevention through to expert NHS help.”

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