In today’s society, mental health is becoming a more openly talked about issue and is much less taboo than it was 20 years ago. Even though society is becoming more accepting of the presence of mental health issues in young teens, schools are seen trying to dismiss these issues at every other turn.
“Teenage drama” is a term that is constantly thrown around by teachers who are trying to cast out every shadow of a doubt that mental health problems could exist inside the minds of their own pupils. Schools refuse to recognise that in certain cases, they are actually the problem. I sometimes question whether schools are being properly educated on what mental health issues look like in young people.
Do you think schools are doing enough to help students with their mental health problems?
— OpinionPanel (@OpinionPanelEd) May 30, 2018
Depression is not a sad face and tears in class. Depression is an empty chair because pupils dread the very thought of having to face the world in the morning and so will do anything to avoid it.
Anxiety is not a pupil getting nervous in front of the class when they have to read a speech. Anxiety is a pupil going hungry at lunch because they cannot physically bear to order food in the lunch line.
Stress is not a throwaway line by a pupil like “I have hockey and home economics today, I’m so stressed.” Stress is a pupil’s hair falling out when two essays, worth half of their overall grade, are due for the same day.
Being bullied by your peers is not always like in the movies where you get your books thrown on the ground and your head shoved in a toilet. No. This exclusion is much more secretive: it’s whispers and rumours in the air, it’s not having anyone to sit with at lunch, it’s the feeling of slowly being cast out and not being able to do anything about it.
Schools do not understand any of this. What is the point of having pastoral care systems in place if teachers cannot understand the signs and won’t refer pupils to get the help they so desperately need? They only need to watch ’13 Reasons Why’ to see what can happen when schools don’t intervene.
We are told as pupils that “our grades do not define us” but that is the biggest lie I have ever been told. My grades define my career, my future and how I am treated in school. Any pupil seen to be struggling will get an intervention. The intentions of this are pure, a talk to understand why the pupil is struggling and to see if the school can help. This kind of intervention however, is only given to pupils who are seen to be struggling. How can you, with straight A’s explain to a teacher, who only sees you for 3 or 4 hours a week, every single thing you are feeling? How can you explain that you cannot motivate yourself to get out of bed in the morning because the idea of your future terrifies you so much that it causes you to have panic attacks? That the uncertainty of tests and grades, which will decide who you can be in life, keep you awake all night leaving you too physically exhausted to come into school?
In an article by the Telegraph, Peter Tait, a former headmaster states “While progress has been made, a few schools appear to care more about academic results than the well-being of pupils,” and I couldn’t agree more.
Schools need to desperately undergo changes in their attitude towards mental health and attend briefings and staff training days from mental health boards and societies to show teachers effective ways to help students. I know this is a far stretch, schools are too busy with exams and tests to stop for a second and look at the girl who might be getting all A’s but her smile is broken. It only takes a second look to recognise it. A second look that may never happen.