Child and adolescent mental health expert Professor Tanya Byron warned that schools are not being supported in looking after young people with mental health problems.
Speaking to delegates on Friday morning, Professor Byron, an adviser to the government, explained how 1 in 10 children and young people aged between 5 and 16 suffer from a diagnosable mental health disorder.
“Why is mental health not on the curriculum and on the agenda?”
She said: “We are teaching kids to pass exams – this is a fake marker of intelligence.
“While we are fetishising IQ, children and young people are so unbelievably anxious. Some of the kids I see are showing signs of the executive stress and burnout you would see in people of my age — I am nearly 50 — who are working hard in their careers with no work-life balance.
“Alongside that you get co-morbid conditions such as depression. The increase in self-harm is shocking.”
There has been a 75 per cent increase in the number of self-harm presentations in the past five years to A&E. She added that 50 per cent of all adult mental health problems will show by the age of 14.
Professor Byron said more and more children from “aspirational middle-class families” are presenting with mental health problems – self-harming or having panic attacks.
“Why? The answer seems to sit around this target-driven system, where it is all about “brains”. It is utterly demeaning. Everything you need to do well at school – problem-solving, creativity, decision-making – goes when you feel anxious. The more anxious you feel, the less able you feel to deliver; the less able you are to deliver, the more it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy.”
She concluded: “Maybe we are not able, because of all our stress and anxiety, to see what they are trying to tell us.
“The good news is we have a very articulate generation coming to us. Social media might bring difficult things to young people, but if we don’t listen to what they say then what they are warning us will come true.”