Primary pupils turn to stress pills

Yojana Sharma, Germany

Medication is the answer to exam pressure for a rising number of children, reports Yojana Sharma

THE Bavarian Teachers' Federation has warned of an alarming rise in the number of primary pupils taking medication for stress or simply to improve school performance.

One in five primary children in Germany is taking medication for these reasons, the union said, following surveys carried out by health authorities in southern Germany.

Studies elsewhere in Germany have borne out the startling new figures. Dr Klaus Hurrelmann, professor of preventive medicine at the University of Bielefeld's Public Health Faculty, estimates that as many as one in three German pupils aged five to nine pops pills regularly.

The authorities maintain that a decade ago less than 10 per cent of primary school pupils were on regular medication. "Use has grown steadily because of stress at school," said the Bavarian Teachers' Federation.

The medication is often bought over the counter by parents concerned about their children's performance at school and to combat sleeplessness, lack of appetite, headaches and stomach aches - classic symptoms of stress - as well as to improve concentration.

Medication includes growing use of Ritalin (available only on prescription) to aid concentration, psychotropic mood-altering drugs and tranquillisers, which are often addictive, and codeine or caffeine-based stimulants.

Aggressive advertising by drug companies, more information about availability of medicines and the ease with which medication can be obtained despite strict regulations in Germany, has contributed to the rise, as have parents' rising expectations of children's academic performance.

"There is a trend to rely on medication to help reach goals," said Dr Hurrelmann, who believes only about half of all medication use among children is justified and appropriately administered. Much of it is self-administered.

Even in more severe cases "medication only makes sense if it is accompanied by psychological and educational support and training to deal with problems," Dr Hurrelmann said. "Instead families are relying on medication as a crutch."

Hamburg University's clinic for child and adolescent psychiatry found in a study of 2,000 families across Germany that one in five children between the ages of four and 18 needed therapy for psychological problems, often induced by stress over school performance.

The figures bear out concerns that mental health problems among children are rising Europe-wide. In Britain, the Mental Health Foundation estimates that 10 per cent of five to 15-year-olds experience mental health problems. Dr Hurrelmann puts the number of children experiencing real psychological problems at nearer 15 per cent in Germany.

The Bavarian Teachers' Federation found that primary pupils today are more concerned about exams and marks than in the past, as post-school academic qualifications are seen as more important than a decade ago when many were happy to obtain industrial apprenticeships and learn a trade. Pressure at the age of 10, when many pupils face exams to determine entry to selective grammar schools, is cited as another factor and high parental anxiety is transferred to children.

Register to continue reading for free

It only takes a moment and you'll get access to more news, plus courses, jobs and teaching resources tailored to you

Yojana Sharma, Germany

Latest stories

Geoff Barton

Omicron, nativities and the DfE: Another fine mess

Schools are being told what to do by those with no concept of the reality of running a school - and it's only making an already tough situation a lot harder, explains Geoff Barton
Geoff Barton 3 Dec 2021
New headteachers - here are 9 things you need to know

Headteacher wellbeing and sources of 'streth'

Former headteacher Chris McDermott set out to find out the true causes of leader stress and support – and in doing so coined a whole new term, as he explains here
Chris McDermott 2 Dec 2021
Transdisciplinary learning: how to embed it in your school

Why you need a transdisciplinary curriculum

At the Aspirations Academies, six hours a week are dedicated to applied transdisciplinary learning - but how does it work? And should you apply something similar at your school?
Steve Kenning 2 Dec 2021