The Sunday Times, 05.10.15, teenagers are experiencing unprecedented levels of depression, self-harm and eating disorders as they struggle to cope with exams and social media, head teachers have warned. Chris Jeffery, Chair of HMC's Wellbeing Working Group and Headmaster of The Grange School, Hartford and former HMC Chairman Bernard Trafford, Headmaster of The Royal Grammar School Newcastle are quoted.
Therapists and “early warning” tests are being used for children as young as eight in an attempt to help them as they face demands to achieve top A and A* grades while also being under pressure to look their best online.
The warning comes from the Headmasters’ and Headmistresses’ Conference (HMC), which represents 275 private schools. It surveyed 65 head teachers and released the results of the survey as members prepared to gather for its annual conference tomorrow.
More than 85 per cent were concerned about depression among their pupils, with almost half saying it was now of “significant concern” compared with 12 per cent five years ago.
There has been a 57 per cent increase in schools reporting incidents of self harm and a 65 per cent rise in the number worried about pupils suffering eating disorders. In contrast, the extent of teenage drinking, underage sex, drug use and smoking has dropped compared with five years ago.
The Times has been campaigning for better mental health services for children, in the face of rising demand. The Time to Mind campaign wants more early-intervention services.
Almost all the 65 head teachers surveyed said that they were grappling with how to stop youngsters misusing social media, by sending things like naked photos, while 82 per cent reported cyber bullying as a problem compared with fewer than 50 per cent five years ago.
Chris Jeffery, headmaster of the Grange School, in Cheshire, and chairman of the HMC well-being committee, said: “Young people in all types of school are experiencing pressures like never before. They worry about getting the right grades in public exams — where an A or A* seems the only acceptable currency for aspirational youngsters to deal with — a place at their chosen university, and a good career beyond that so they can pay off increasing level of student debt, all while trying to look their best on social media.”
He said: “In publishing these results we are acknowledging that the young people in the schools we represent need more help in coping with much of what life throws at, and demands of, them. It is too important an issue for us to stay silent, whatever the risks to the reputation of our schools of speaking up.”
The HMC survey found that schools were bringing in more professional help for pupils, with 45 per cent having increased the provision of in-house counselling over five years, 25 per cent doing so significantly. Almost all the schools surveyed now run sessions for parents about non-academic concerns. Half have hired counsellors to provide therapy, with many bringing in psychiatrists and therapists from outside.
Bernard Trafford, headmaster of Newcastle Royal Grammar School, has recently hired a full-time counsellor to tackle mental health issues among his pupils. He said that in his view schools had become better at raising awareness of mental health issues, but pupils were also speaking out about it more.
He said: “This is a big national concern. There are high levels of anxiety among young people who feel pressured to be beautiful and this is only amplified through social media.”
More than nine out of ten schools questioned said they were running parenting classes.
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