A quarter of Scottish parents say academic pressure is causing their children to feel stressed

10th Oct 2018
Families, children and young people
Influencing policies

Ministers must put mental health at the heart of the school curriculum or face a growing crisis

Scotland will face a "growing child mental health crisis" unless emotional wellbeing is taken as seriously as reading and writing in in the school curriculum, the Mental Health Foundation Scotland has said. 

Launching its new campaign, 'Make it Count', the Foundation has warned that mental health can no longer be treated as 'extra-curricular'. 

Latest stats showed 8,000 children in Scotland with severe mental health problems were waiting to see a specialist at the end of June 2018 and 2,116 of them had been waiting for more than 18 weeks.

The Scottish Government announced more school-based counsellors and mental health first aid training for teachers in its programme for government, but the charity warned that this won’t solve the problem and called on the government to focus on prevention. 

The Mental Health Foundation’s research has found:

  • 25% of Scottish parents say that academic pressure and exam stress has caused their children to feel stressed
  • 31% of Scottish parents say social anxiety has caused their children to feel stressed
  • 58% of Scottish young people say that a fear of making mistakes has led them to feel overwhelmed or unable to cope
  • 60% of Scottish young people say that pressures to succeed has led them to feel overwhelmed or unable to cope
  • 53% of Scottish young people say their body image has led them to feel overwhelmed or unable to cope. 

Frances Beck, a mum and teacher from Stewarton in Ayrshire, was left devastated when her son Conor took his own life earlier this year, after struggling with his own mental health. She said:

“The most effective way of ensuring good mental health for all is to prevent poor mental health developing in the first place and improve early intervention when it does occur.

"It is intuitive, therefore, that we start in schools, teaching our children and young people about mental health and wellbeing, and developing their emotional resilience by teaching them positive coping skills. 

"Bullying, maltreatment, poverty, relationships and belonging are just a few factors that children and young people may face - this was the case for my son Conor. He, like myself, was bullied throughout his school life and I have no doubt he would have benefited from being educated about mental health and how to effectively cope with that stress.

"His story could have been so very different if he'd had that support at that key stage of his life. Had his mental health problems been prevented or had he had targeted early intervention support, it's highly unlikely that he would have taken his own life."

Toni Giugliano, Policy Manager at the Mental Health Foundation Scotland said: 

“Our research shows that academic pressure is exacerbating many young people’s mental health. The Scottish Government’s focus on raising attainment in reading and writing must not be at the expense of young people’s mental health. 

“It’s unacceptable that teachers are still not trained in mental health in Scotland. School staff desperately want the training to explore the 'real-life issues' that create distress – be it body image, relationship worries, exam stress or how to handle difficult conversations on social media. 

“Mental ill health is on the rise and schools must be equipped to respond and prevent distress by helping young people build resilience and cope with difficult situations. Unless we do that we’ll continue to see more children in crisis.   

“We welcome the commitment to train teachers in mental health first aid – but we shouldn’t be waiting for children to become unwell before teachers are able to assist them. All school staff should be trained in much broader mental health and resilience to prevent mental ill health from developing in the first place.  

“Unless we take action now we will fail the next generation right at the start of their lives.”

Maureen Daniel, Head Teacher at Kirkintilloch High School in East Dunbartonshire, where the campaign was launched today said:

"It was an honour to host the launch of the 'Make it Count' campaign at Kirkintilloch High School as we pride ourselves on being a school where young people can access mental health and wellbeing support and be comfortable in doing so. 

"We are always working to build on the excellent work of the Pupil Support Team to embrace opportunities to improve the support we provide our young people to ensure that our school remains a positive nurturing environment for everyone who attends."

What the Mental Health Foundation Scotland is calling for:

  1. All teachers in Scotland to be trained in mental health and adolescent brain development by 2020. 
  2. All schools in Scotland to measure levels of wellbeing by introducing a “wellbeing questionnaire” once a term to identify problems early by 2020. 
  3. The Scottish Government to introduce a new national target of one hour of quality Personal and Social Education per week with a minimum of 50% of those classes dedicated to building emotional resilience and tackling the root causes of mental ill health by 2020.  
  4. Every school to adopt a peer-led mental health programme by 2020 to help young people support one another and break down the stigma on mental ill health.  
  5. Mental health support workers to be embedded in every school by 2020 so that young people who require targeted support receive it, when they need it, in environments they trust.

Statistics about mental health in children and young people

  • 20% of adolescents may experience a mental health problem in any given year.1
  • 50% of mental health problems are established by age 14 and 75% by age 24.2 
  • 10% of children and young people (aged 5-16 years) have a clinically diagnosable mental problem3, yet 70% of children and adolescents who experience mental health problems have not had appropriate interventions at a sufficiently early age.4

About the 'Make it Count' campaign

With more and more schoolchildren struggling to cope with their mental health, the Mental Health Foundation has launched a new campaign: ‘Make it Count’.

We are campaigning to ensure every child in Scotland receives an education with mental health at its heart. We know there is no one single way for schools to provide such an environment. To make them mentally healthy places for all who attend and work in them, we need to pursue a 'whole-school' approach to prevention.

Teachers, leadership, the curriculum, children, and access to support all contribute to creating a mentally healthy, nurturing environment for children and young people.  We are calling on the Scottish Government and schools to address all these elements to deliver effective change.

Notes to editors

For further information or to request an interview, please contact:  [email protected] . Case studies, including teachers, pupils and parents are available.

Total sample size was 1,012 adults, of which 114 were aged 18-24. The survey was carried out online. The figures have been weighted and are representative of all Scottish adults (aged 18+). (YouGov)

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