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.”

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  1. This certainly rings true with the experience I’ve had with my teenage son. School have done their very best to be supportive but they are not equipped to give sufficient help. Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services seem under-staffed, under-funded and overwhelmed with applications for assessments and treatment. Our government needs to sit up and take note of what’s happening and address the root causes.

  2. I totally agree with this, schools pressure students into getting high grades with an emphasis on exams determining your intelligence – a grade that could change depending on the day and or questions asked in said exam. We have become a society that values our performance on exams and grades more than that of our emotional well-being. We need people in schools that support us, people that are qualified, sadly I have never seen such support in Australia. As a University graduate attempting to get into a highly competitive course (also the gateway to my dream job) I empathize with these student, for it is not our intelligence, fortitude, work ethic, personality or behaviour that is valued – but instead our grades. I have seen many of my friends – suffer with self harm, depression and anxiety when overloaded with work and I am no exception. In fact during my high school years at least 75% of my friends (6/8) were self harming, and now I am at University the number of people I know with depression and anxiety have sky-rocketed. It is so sad that we learn nothing about mental health in schools, but emphasize heath in both physical and sexual education. I feel that a lot of issues could be dealt with before they became severe by trained professionals if students felt they were able to communicate with them with confidence. We need to remove the stigma of mental health issues!!! And we need more professionals to speak out on behalf of those who can’t.

  3. Question why the government is setting increasingly unattainable targets for schools, not the schools themselves, in an attempt to look as if it is providing “rigour” in the education system. It is causing immense stress for teachers whose work is never good enough and for students whose targets are set too high based on random data from KS2 and who repeatedly fail to live up to these spurious targets when in fact they are doing well……but we can’t acknowledge that because they are labelled as “underperforming”. Question why teachers are leaving the profession in droves. It is not because of pay issues but due data driven education and a lack of confidence in their judgement and professionalism. The future sees schools full of supply teachers and senior leaders without the necessary experience to lead a school as leaving the classroom appears to be the only way to longevity I the profession.

  4. This isn’t rocket science. I could quote many teachers on the edge of their nerves. Last week – “I just want to give the children my time but I am exhausted from soullessly pleasing a head who demands perfectionism on paper. While we bow to the dreaded brown envelope the children suffer.” Year 1/2. No wonder by teen years they inherit not joy of learning but stress.

  5. …and teachers seem to have very little training in child emotional development, so aren’t equipped to recognise difficulties…unless they are expressed as disruptive behaviour. Also I think older children are affected by the stress their teachers are under..a stressed teacher is not in a good place to create a calm flexible responsive learning environment.

  6. Creative thinking shuts-down during anxiety and fear… so trying to encourage a child/teen to creatively learn and achieve their best in school and other activities is pointless. Most young people doubt their ability, and little to zero self worth creating the fertile ground on which things like negative thought cycles, depressive behaviour patterns and more extreme mental health issues arise.

  7. Marie bird

    Anxiety displayed by adults particularly in children’s lives adds to or causes anxiety in children. Parents, teachers, support staff generally speaking everyone a child as contact with! Anxiety is not an adult condition, as a TA in a reception class I see anxious children, until we in the education environment see that it is a barrier to learning, and is often developed in the “learning” setting because of pressure sensed by these same children we are not going to ease that anxiety. Asthma training, diabetes training are just 2 areas I myself have had in my school. Anxiety needs to be added because it is an ever increasing condition we need to recognise and be aware of causes and effects!