I have been a secondary school teacher for over 22 years, teaching French in several different schools in different counties in England. Over the last five years, I have seen a huge increase in the number of students suffering from mental health issues such as anxiety, stress, low mood or depression. Young people nowadays face so much pressure at school and at home and social media only exasperates their feelings and worries. It is a huge concern for all teachers.
Schools play such a vital role in supporting the well-being of their students. They support students in developing key skills to help them cope with the pressures of life. There is also a clear link between those students with good mental health, who feel happy and valued at school, and academic success. I currently work in a comprehensive school in Oxfordshire and we have an area of the school designated to supporting vulnerable students. Here students can work with a resident counselor, attend small group sessions (for Young Carers for example) or simply drop in at lunchtime for a chat. We have recently introduced yoga for students who cannot access this outside of school. The yoga introduced Mindfulness and this has been particularly successful with students who self-harm.
We work regularly with key agencies in Oxfordshire to provide the continued support needed. But the challenges for students and teachers are ever-present; friendship group issues in Year 7 when students arrive in secondary school and can feel isolated and unsure. Behavior changes in Year 8 and 9 due to puberty. I have noticed a big increase in body image issues recently. And exam pressure and fear for the future in Year 10 and 11.
Schools are under significant funding pressures and some schools, including mine, may well struggle to find finances to pay for the support needed to maintain well-being amongst students in the future. I have grave concerns. Many of my colleagues feel that they do not have the necessary training to deal with some of the issues that arise and yet we are often the ones vulnerable students will talk to first.
Sarah was in my tutor group and arrived in Year 9. She was a shy and nervous child and found making friends difficult. In Year 10 her father died and she soon became engulfed by grief and fear for her family’s future. She also faced the pressure of preparing for her GCSE exams. Sarah started having panic attacks in class and began to self-harm. She found it hard to discuss her feelings but she gradually opened up to me and agreed to some support in school. Sarah had weekly meetings with our school counselor and external support too. It was a really difficult time but Sarah managed to take her exams and she achieved her expected grades which were a huge achievement.
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