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Warnings over mental health crisis not helpful say headteachers

Stratford headteachers are warning against catastrophising over the impact of the pandemic on pupils’ mental health.

In a letter to parents last month, Stratford School headteacher, Neil Wallace, said suggestions in the media that the pandemic could bring abut a youth mental health crisis, were misleading and unhelpful.

Neil Wallace (44530330)
Neil Wallace (44530330)

Giving a frank appraisal of schooling at the moment, Mr Wallace said some pupils were thriving with online learning, most had adapted well and a few were struggling.

Mr Wallace said: “It can be despairing being bombarded almost daily with talk of the youth mental health crisis, a Covid generation afflicted by lost learning, rumblings about extending school days and term continuing into the summer holiday and the ongoing debate about when students should return to school.

“The catastrophising about the state of education and the allegedly detrimental impact all of this is having on young people needs putting into perspective. Alas, the additional skills students have acquired during this period are often overlooked, including using technology in different ways, learning greater self-reliance and resilience.

“It would be helpful to stop medicalising feeling lonely, bored, confused, anxious, worried and sad. These are natural appropriate responses to an incredibly stressful situation. These are feelings people will experience throughout their lives and do not necessarily mean that youngsters have a mental illness.”

He added that one of the school’s values is that ‘we work better and are more productive when we feel good about ourselves and trust each other’ and suggested politicians and the media should adopt the same message.

Bennet Carr, Headmaster at King Edward VI School, has also put out a similar message reassuring young people that they can still excel throughout this difficult time.

Bennet Carr (44530328)
Bennet Carr (44530328)

In a letter to parents on 5th February, he wrote: “Such catastrophising of young people as a ‘lost generation’ is unhelpful at best, particularly if the message we give to them at this anxious time is that they need to work harder and longer to ‘catch up’. It is vital that we re-assure your sons and daughters that if, indeed, there is any ‘damage’ to their education, it is far from catastrophic and that, in fact, they continue to make excellent progress despite the obvious difficulties.”

On the issue of mental health the Children’s Commissioner for England has said that there were recognised issues with children’s mental health services prior to the pandemic and it is likely the lockdowns will have made the situation worse.

Speaking last month, Anne Longfield Children’s Commissioner for England, said: “It is widely accepted that lockdown and school closures have had a detrimental effect on the mental health of many children. Since the NHS study in July 2020 estimating one in six children in England have a probable mental health condition, we have had another long lockdown. Sadly, this will be causing even more damage to many children’s mental wellbeing and putting even greater strains on mental health services, potentially for years to come.

“That is why in the short term it is so important the Government sets out a roadmap that helps schools to reopen over the coming weeks.”

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