In the past few years, concerns about pupils’ mental health have increased dramatically. A survey by the Association of School and College Leaders last year found that almost one in five school leaders said that at least 40 per cent of their pupils were experiencing anxiety or stress.
Mary Bousted, general secretary of the ATL teaching union, attributes the increase in mental health problems in part to the rise in child poverty. “If you’re insecure about where you’re going to live, where your next meal’s coming from,” she says, “or if your parents are stressed, then that stress and that anxiety is passed on to you.”
Bousted claims that the current school curriculum also makes things worse. “I expect to see rates of mental ill health rising through the roof, because of the severe pressure and anxiety and stress that we’re deliberately putting young people under,” she says.
Anna Cole, inclusion specialist for the Association of School and College Leaders, believes “the use of social media and technology are aggravating fragile mental health”.
“The way young people are using social media – are connected in all the time, with no let-up – is having an impact,” she says.
Others, however, argue that there is no increase in child mental ill health; merely an increase in diagnosis.
Kathryn Ecclestone, visiting professor at the University of Sheffield, says: “We’re completely caught up in this apocalyptic scenario. No one questions it: kids are stressed; they need counselling.
“Feeling stressed and anxious is being presented as a mental health problem, and the slip from “I’m stressed” to “I have a mental health problem” is very easy now. That’s dangerous.”