As a teacher you’re not just responsible for the education of your pupils and students. Often wellbeing and welfare comes into the mix. And teachers in the UK are seeing that more and more of their role encompasses children and young people’s mental health, due to a surge in social and environmental factors, such as Covid-19, and the strains on resources.
Impact of the pandemic on student mental health
The mental health of young people has worsened in recent years, and recent research from the Centre of Mental Health shows that, in England, 1.5 million children and young people will need either new or additional mental health support as a direct consequence of Covid-19 and the ongoing pandemic. Rates of mental illness among children have increased by 50% in just three years. Uncertainty has created anxiety. Schools were opening and closing on a frequent basis. The daily routine was entirely disrupted. And the ways of engaging with others had to change, as social distancing and masks became the norm.
Anxiety over the war in Ukraine
The recent war in Ukraine has been an unsettling time for students. War in their own continent brings it close to home, and teachers are often the ones having to explain what is happening, and what it all means, and again provide a safe space for young people to talk. Through education they are able to provide some sense of meaning, although it is still incredibly stressful and there are many unknowns. Active imaginations and a lack of resources can result in tension.
Climate change anxiety
Young people are more concerned by environmental and social issues more than any other generation. Whilst things such as climate change, gender equality and period poverty have seen activism accelerated and movements started, they have also caused concern and worry. A global survey found that 60% of young people are worried about climate change, citing the future as ‘frightening’ and making them worry about the future.
Teachers and student mental health
A group of education and health experts writing in the journal of the Royal Society of Medicine said that the mental health of students is also having a huge toll on teachers, who often end up dealing with the strains. Given that only one in four of the 500,000 children and young people referred to Child and Adolescent Mental Health Service (CAMHS)every year receive help, and many are refused care as they are not considered ‘sick enough,’ it’s teachers who are triaging and supporting.
Teachers, alongside GPs and social workers, constitute 'tier 1' of CAMHS, but many do not feel confident enough in this role, not knowing how to support young people or who to refer them to. Investment both in treatment, access to support, and teacher support varies wildly across the country.
This isn’t just an issue for UK teachers. Many countries around the world are experiencing the same challenges. Around 10% of young people in the US have anxiety, and 4% depression, according to a recent report.
Support is out there
But that’s not to say that it’s a traumatic experience. Mental health training is available to all, and many regions and local authorities offer support. Peers are a great source of help, and teachers often find that their colleagues either at the school they work at or in the local area have suggestions and strategies in mind that they can offer. The UK government has also pledged additional funding that will allow nearly 3 million children in England to be supported by mental health support teams in schools, around 22,500 more children and young people to access community mental health services and give 2,000 more children and young people help from eating disorder services. Charities such as Young Minds are also a great source of guidance and resources, and Education Support is available for teachers who need help.
While it’s a challenging time for all, great teachers know that the happier and healthier their students are, the better they will learn, and the more rounded young people they will grow up to be.