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'I’m 17 - most of my friends suffer from mental illness'

'Feelings are brushed under the carpet by schools for the sake of league tables': a teenager speaks up on mental health

One teenager voices her fears about a lack of mental health support in schools

When I was younger, I thought most of my friends spent their time watching TV, doing their make-up and crushing over boy bands. Little did I know, they were crying into their pillows at night, self-harming in the early hours of the morning and starving themselves at dinner.

By the age of 11, at least seven of my friends were suffering from some form of mental health problem. In the past six years, eight of my friends have been hospitalised, forcing them to leave school. Currently, at the age of 17, I would say that approximately 75 per cent of my friends suffer from mental illness.

Some of my friends are from private schools and some are from state schools. Some are girls and some are boys. Some are from privileged backgrounds, and others are not. Mental illness affects every adolescent, from every walk of life in some way.

Most of the time, the cause of adolescent mental health issues is not the skinny Victoria's Secret model on Instagram, the pollution in the air or love-life problems. Mental health problems are caused by the immense pressure, intense bullying and the lack of encouragement we face on a daily basis, while being offered little or no support.

Supporting students' mental health

Improving mental health has nothing to do with money, and it has very little to do with social media. It has everything to do with time, values and the genuine desire to help.

In an education system as archaic and discouraging as ours, schools need to be willing to prioritise mental health over grades, irrespective of the threat this may pose to their rankings. Schools need to act on the symptoms before it is too late, rather than hoping the issues will melt away. So many of my friends have suffered because their feelings were brushed under the carpet by schools for the sake of their league tables or their reputation.

Would a doctor get away with refusing to acknowledge the symptoms of a life-threatening disease in their patient? No. So why should schools be allowed to deliberately ignore signs of severe depression, anxiety and even potential suicide?

No child should have to choke back their tears through an hour-long lesson for the sake of their grades. No child should have to lie to teachers every time they are hurriedly asked if they are “OK” because they want to say what the teachers want to hear: "yes". No child should ever have to suffer in silence.

When we walk out of our school gates at graduation, the mental scars won't miraculously fade, we won't suddenly gain all the confidence we lost and our anxiety won't disappear.  

Our mental health may only be a school's problem for seven years, but it is our problem forever.

Tes is running this piece anonymously, to protect the identity of the writer and their friends

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