Results of a National Education Union survey released this week, suggest a sharp increase in students with mental health needs, and a mismatch in mental health care provision within schools and colleges
Members of the National Education Union surveyed about the state of education have spoken out about mental health issues they believe could be changed by proper Government funding.
The survey results, released to coincide with the annual National Education Union Conference, reveal the perceived number of students living with and experiencing ill mental health has increased since 2017.
However, according to a large percentage of the 8,674 education professionals surveyed, the mental health resources available do not match the need for support and the underfunding of external mental health services as well as schools is adding to a mounting mental health crisis.
Of those NEU members surveyed between 28 March and 3 April this year, over half of the respondents (53%) are currently classroom teachers with daily experience of working directly with students. When asked whether they had witnessed a change in the number of students presenting with mental health challenges, an overwhelming 83% confirmed that they had seen an increase since 2017 - averaged across primary, secondary and college students.
"I’d say mental health issues have gone up from 1 in 10 to 5 in 10"
Survey results show that the increase in mental health challenges is more pronounced in older students, with 90% of education professionals working in colleges stating there's been an increase in pupils presenting with mental health issues since 2017, compared to 86% working in secondary schools and 81% in primary education.
Further feedback from teachers focussed around specific incidents of self harm and discussions around suicide. One professional remarked that: "I’d say mental health issues have gone up from 1 in 10 to 5 in 10" with another noting that there is “much more anxiety, self-harming. Three suicides in three years in my school alone.” Another simply remarked “We are at a crisis point with mental health.”
On the subject of mental health care provision specifically for students, less than half reported there was a counsellor within the school (48%). 12% of respondents noted that there were Mental Health First Aiders, a recommendation by the Government. However, one respondent was scathing about the benefits of trained Mental Health First Aiders within schools, stating that; "Mental health first aid is a lip service. Seven members of staff trained – nothing we didn’t already know and it does not make us mental health practitioners! Massive myth!"
Further to this, the survey showed that over a third of respondents have had training within the past year to enable them to help students with mental ill health, with 40% of college education professionals noting they had been trained. Feedback within the survey picked up on the notion that such training often had to be sought outside of working hours, sometimes at personal cost to the educational professionals.
"We are at a crisis point with mental health"
The issue of funding and access to mental healthcare provision seemed to underpin the main mental health concerns within the educational environment. 57% of professionals cited funding cuts in this multi-choice answer, along with a reduction in teaching assistants (51%) and learning support assistants (40%), the narrowing of the curriculum (32%), an ‘exam factory’ assessment system (53%), and personal workload (64%). The burden on external mental health support services and access to these, including CAMHS and educational psychologists, was a key issue too with 64% of educational professionals citing this.
In response to the survey results, Kevin Courtney, Joint General Secretary of the National Education Union, said: “These are alarming reports of a growing crisis in our schools and society. It is very clear that this Government’s policies on education and school funding are contributing to a terrible and destructive situation for young people and the education workforce. Schools can't solve this alone and Government's underfunding of public services is damaging the next generation from an early age.”
If you need support, you can find local counselling through Counselling Directory.