Young people failed by approach to mental health in secondary schools across England

More than one in six young men with mental health problems had been excluded either permanently or temporarily.

06/07/21

Young people failed by approach to mental health in secondary schools across England

Young people in secondary schools across England are being denied vital mental health support at school and by mental health services, a leading mental health charity has warned.

Research by Mind into secondary education and mental health reveals that almost all (96%) of young people surveyed across England, reported that their mental health had affected their schoolwork at some point.

The research consulted with over 2,870 young people, parents/caregivers of young people affected by mental health problems, mental health professionals and school staff across England. It found that nearly seven in ten (68%) young people reported being absent from school due to their mental health. Some young people also reported having their mental health problems treated as bad behaviour, rather than being supported to address underlying issues. Some reported being sent into isolation, physically restrained, or excluded from school for this reason.

The charity is urging a rethink of the way that schools respond to young people experiencing behavioural problems because of mental health problems and trauma. More than one in six (17%) young men with mental health problems had been excluded (either permanently or temporarily) in comparison to fewer than one in ten (7%) young women.

Nearly half (48%) of young people had been disciplined at school for behaviour that was related to their mental health. In the most severe cases, young people reported being physically restrained and put in isolation away from friends and peers. One in four school staff (25%) were aware of a student being excluded from school because of their mental health.

Haleem, now 20 years old, spoke about his experience with mental health problems at school.

“When I started secondary school, I used to be a good kid, but I was often was sent out of class, and got into trouble, so then that’s what I became, ‘the bad kid’. I started using drugs and drinking alcohol as a way of coping with my mental health problems – because I didn’t understand mental health then or that my behaviour was down to me struggling with my mental health.

“I started seeing a psychiatrist when I was at Sixth Form. Although, the support I received was quite sporadic, I was thrown about to different teams. I think young people who have gone through the schooling system need to be involved in schools and training days and give their own opinions and ideas.”

Speaking about how secondary schools approach mental health problems in young people, David Stephenson, Senior Policy and Campaigns Officer at Mind, said the prioritisation of academic achievement cannot be at the expense of mental wellbeing.

“As a young person struggling with your mental health, learning and taking part in school life can be a significant challenge. What you want is for someone to listen to you, try to understand what is happening and help you get the support you need. Our inquiry has found that this isn’t happening.”

Stephenson added that he wants to see the banning of isolation as a disciplinary measure, as this can contribute to poor mental health.

“We are not asking teachers to be mental health professionals. However, we need to think again about how we address behaviour in schools, so those with the greatest need receive help, not punishment. There needs to be more support for schools to meet the needs of young people experiencing mental health problems and a radical rethink of discipline.”

The research also explored to the link between racism and mental health. The 70% of young people who experienced racism in school told us that their experience had impacted their mental wellbeing. This has prompted calls from the charity for the introduction of legislation to require schools to report incidents of racism.

Stephenson said the Government must take into consideration young people’s experiences of racism and the effect this has on mental health.

“Our inquiry heard how racism significantly impacts young people’s mental health, yet the UK Government’s failure to require schools to report on racist incidents means the true scale of racism in schools remains unidentified and the full impact unknown.”

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