The president of Scotland's biggest teaching union has warned that there will continue to be “a huge increase” in the need for mental health support as a result of the Covid pandemic – and that failing to act will result in “a generation of young people...affected by mental health issues”.
Carole Thorpe, who is a primary teacher, told the EIS teaching union's virtual annual general meeting this morning that the union had been calling for more resources for mental health support for pupils for a long time but “for many years our young people have had to wait for months and even years to access any support”.
She said that that was “absolutely not good enough now”, given all that young people have had to endure over the course of the past year.
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Ms Thorpe said that they had “experienced grief and loss, have lived with stressed parents, have been subjected to domestic abuse, hunger and so many other issues”.
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The EIS president said: “There has been, and will continue to be, a huge increase in the need for mental health support due to the pandemic. During this last year so many of our young people have missed out on social contact, have experienced grief and loss, have lived with stressed parents, have been subjected to domestic abuse, hunger, and so many other issues.
“For so many of our young people, school is the stable, dependable part of their existence and they have struggled without it. Cracks in our society will be irreparable if we do not act now. Money must be made available to education – pupils affected by the pandemic are the future of our country and we cannot afford to fail them. We cannot afford to have a generation of young people who are being affected by mental health issues.”
Ms Thorpe added that many teachers and lecturers had also struggled with mental health problems and work-related stress.
She called for employers to “ensure all staff are supported”, and hit out at the “insulting 1 per cent pay increase” teachers are being offered after “a crushing year”.
Ms Thorpe said: “Teachers deserve more – all of our colleagues deserve more. We have suffered long enough from the 'idea' of austerity and it is time to recognise the people who are truly important to society.
“Without the cooperation of teachers, schools don’t work, and throughout this last year, without the cooperation of teachers, our schools would not have worked at all.”
Meanwhile, a website set up by the Scottish Youth Parliament has been expanded to help young people cope with the pressures of the Covid pandemic.
The Scottish Youth Parliament and the Children’s Parliament last year jointly set up the Mind Yer Time resource, helping children and young people learn about healthy use of screens and social media.
More than 650 Scots aged between eight and 25 have since helped with work to expand the website, and it now includes content on home learning, dealing with screen time guilt and navigating video chats.
Mental wellbeing minister Kevin Stewart praised the initiative, describing it as a great way to ensure youngsters are getting the “support they need to tackle stresses and challenges faced online”.
Mind Yer Time has been developed with interactive content that mirrors popular online apps and websites, such as TikTok, YouTube and Instagram.
It also includes sections aimed at helping young people deal with issues such as body image, anxiety and online bullying.
Aaran McDonald, a member of the Scottish Youth Parliament, said: “Young people all over the world have spent a huge amount of time online during lockdown and that’s having a longer-term impact on their mental and physical health.
“We’re dedicated to providing a resource than can empower young people to embrace opportunities, make friends and educate themselves about healthy social media use.”
Cathy McCulloch, co-director of the Children’s Parliament, said: “With many children spending much of their time online over the last year, a resource like Mind Yer Time is more important than ever.
“The Children’s Parliament is dedicated to helping safeguard the wellbeing of children online and help ensure they have the tools they need for healthy screen time.”
Mr Stewart said: “With the impact that the Covid-19 pandemic has had on everyone’s lives this year, it is important that we are paying attention to our children and young people’s health and wellbeing.
“Expanding and developing Mind Yer Time with vital insights from the country’s children and young people is a great way to ensure we are equipping them with the support they need to tackle stresses and challenges faced online.
“This is particularly important for children and young people who are experiencing increased stress and anxiety or those who have seen their screen time surge during lockdown.
“It is fantastic to see children and young people sharing their own stories and advice through the resource to help one another.
“The Scottish Youth Parliament and Children’s Parliament should be immensely proud of the world-leading resource they have pioneered.”