More than three-quarters of headteachers are worried about their students’ mental health, with many concerned about children coming to school anxious or depressed.
But cuts to the budgets for local-authority mental-health services mean that children are having to wait months for specialist care, according to a new survey.
The Key, a support organisation for school leaders, questioned more than 1,100 headteachers about the mental-health issues they have observed among their students.
Seventy-seven per cent of the respondents said that they had had to deal with mental-health issues among students at their schools, and 80 per cent said they were concerned about anxiety among their students.
Amy Cook, senior researcher for The Key, said: “There’s much more emphasis on attainment and achievement nowadays, at the expense of pupil wellbeing.
“The pressure that parents and schools are putting on pupils is to get good A-level grades. We see mental-health issues manifesting much more in families where you wouldn’t necessarily expect it.”
Many headteachers were also aware that students could be affected by depression: 64 per cent said that this was something they were worried about. Fifty-one per cent said that they were concerned about students self-harming, and 41 per cent were worried about eating disorders.
Sixty-six per cent of those questioned said that they have had to refer a student to the Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services (Camhs), during their school career. This figure was higher (71 per cent) among primary heads than secondary heads (57 per cent).
But, of those headteachers who referred a child on to Camhs, 45 per cent had to wait between one and three months for the case to be followed up. Just over a quarter had to wait between three and six months, and nearly one in ten had to wait more than six months.
Ms Cook says that two-thirds of local authorities have had their budget for Camhs cut since 2010. “Camhs is specialist support from a trained psychologist,” she said. “It wouldn’t work to put the onus on teachers, because teachers aren’t trained mental-health specialists."
Fiona Pienaar, of charity The Place2Be, which provides counselling services in schools, said that her counsellors have increasingly been working with children with the kinds of severe problems that, in the past, would have been referred on to Camhs.
“We’ve generally seen an upswing in worrying behaviours,” she said. “These sorts of mental-health challenges increasingly impact on children’s ability to perform in school.
“I can’t stress strongly enough that we should be putting money into the early intervention stage, when people are young. It costs a lot less to society than having to intervene when they’re older.”