As the new school and college year gets under way, figures released last month show that three quarters of young people (77 per cent) with mental health problems have missed out on education.
The survey, by mental health anti-stigma programme Time to Change, also shows that for one in four students (24 per cent), the reason they did not go into school or college was because they were worried what other people would say about their mental health.
More than 3,000 people who have experienced mental health problems while in education were questioned as part of the survey. Fifteen per cent said they had experienced bullying as a result of mental health problems and 16 per cent revealed they had lost friends because they had opened up about their mental health problems. Furthermore, nearly a third of the students (31 per cent) had been on the receiving end of derogatory language, with respondents citing, “crazy” “mental” and “attention-seeking” as some of the most common terms used.
For fear of a negative backlash, many students (48 per cent of those questioned) chose not to tell anyone at school or college about their mental health problems – with many citing physical health conditions as the reason for being absent instead.
Time to Change, which is run by the charities Mind and Rethink Mental Illness, found that pupils are missing weeks and months of their education at a time. Worryingly, for more than one in 10 people (12 per cent), mental health problems put a stop to their education all together.
Jenny Taylor, the national programme manager at Time to Change, said: “A young person would go into a classroom and tell their friends and teachers if they had broken their leg, but when it comes to mental health problems, they’re silenced by the stigma and worried they may be bullied as a result of talking about their mental health problems.
“Yet one in 10 young people will experience a mental health problem, that’s around three in every classroom, so we need to change this culture and make it more acceptable to talk openly about mental health problems before students miss out on their education.”
The survey also revealed that missing education as a result of mental health problems went on to have an impact on people later in life in the following ways:
80 per cent of people lost their confidence.
54 per cent said it had an impact on their education.
26 per cent of people said it had an impact on job prospects.
Norman Lamb, minister of state for care and support, is supporting Time to Change’s work. He said: “I want to build a fairer society. This means better mental health care for children and young people without the barrier of stigma. It is heart-breaking that youngsters fear they will face discrimination from their peers and I am pleased that Time to Change is working with schools to address this.
“We’re already working with the Department for Education to help teachers and others in contact with children to spot the signs of mental health problems, and I’ve recently launched a Taskforce to look at how we can make sure every child with mental health problems gets the support they need.”
Attitudes towards mental health are formed at an early age and Time to Change is working with young people who aren’t close to the issue to improve their understanding. That starts with an understanding that mental health is something everyone has – just like physical health. The programme offers straightforward guidance on the ways students can look after their own mental health and also extend help and support to friends or loved ones who are experiencing mental health problems.
Ms Taylor continued: “One of our key messages in schools is that you don’t have to be some kind of expert to support a friend.
“Our experience is that it really helps if students are equipped with simple ideas for showing their friends that they care. Small things can make a big difference – like being there to listen, keeping in touch, avoiding clichés such as, ‘cheer up’ and ‘I’m sure it will pass’.”
That simple thinking lies behind Time to Change’s latest schools initiative.
Make Time in November is part of a major national awareness campaign this autumn and involves schools conducting a series of four brief, simple sessions in assembly or form time to raise awareness and start the conversation about mental health. More than 200 schools have already signed up for the sessions so far – using the free resources provided by Time to Change – and they want as many schools in England to join them.
Ms Taylor added: “Eighty-six per cent of our survey respondents do not think schools or colleges do enough to teach young people about mental health.
“Our hope is that Make Time in November provides a straightforward way to addressing this urgent pastoral need.” Further informationFor more information on Make Time in November and to register your interest, go to www.time-to-change.org.uk/november