Mental health in schools
'85% of students have felt overwhelmed by the amount of work they have at any one time.'
Charlie Burgar | 5 December 2018

Many people, particularly students, feel that teenage mental health is a stigmatised and uncomfortable topic to discuss, especially within schools. Students are often under huge amounts of pressure and stress, particularly in the sixth form, to perform well and get the top grades in order to go to a good university. All to ensure that they have a successful career and a happy life. I believe that schools do not do enough to support their students during times of stress: they pressure and over-work them in order to get the best results, often with opposite effect. Over 30% of students have reported that stress has negatively affected their academic performance, and a shocking 85% of students have felt overwhelmed by the amount of work they have at any one time. Students often hesitate to seek help for their anxiety or depression due to the way the schools react. It has been reported that 60% of students who have anxiety or depression do not seek help for their deteriorating mental health.  

In psychology, the cognitive explanation of depression suggests that an individual’s interpretation of an external event can cause this mental illness. For example, a person may believe that everyone dislikes them which leads to negative thoughts about oneself and causes a downward spiral. Aaron Beck (1967) proposed the idea of the “cognitive trial” which is a pessimistic and irrational view that the patient holds about the self, the future and the world. A negative view of the self may include feeling unattractive or unlikable. A negative view of the future may include the idea that they will never find the right partner or job. A negative view of the world may include an external event that suggests a negative idea such as a friend cancelling a meet-up causing an individual to think that their friend does not want to see them. These three ideas go hand-in-hand and one sparks the others, causing depressive thoughts. 

I would like to discuss the idea of using Beck’s theory of the cognitive triad to support students and help them to control the stress and pressure they experience when preparing for exams. Currently, schools make a big deal out of someone with a mental health disorder such as depression, often breaching confidentiality by telling other teachers, and making the student feel uncomfortable talking to people whom they do not trust, such as the head teacher. They also feel patronised and belittled by being told they are abnormal or they feel they are spoken to as if they are children. This is one of the reasons that students do not seek help. I believe that by teaching Beck’s explanation vigorously in schools, more students would understand why they feel as they do and may be more prepared to seek help.  

Many students believe that if they do not achieve the best results, they will not be successful and get a good, enjoyable job which causes a negative view of the future. When this stress occurs, and top results are not achieved, negative thoughts of one-self appear; the student does not feel intelligent enough, especially as they are sometimes marked down to make them work harder. Consequently, this causes a negative view of the world. The downward spiral has begun.  

Instead of stigmatising mental disorders, schools need to understand how to deal with them in a way that does not make students feel patronised or feel as though they have no one to talk to who will help them without breaching their confidentiality. By teaching Beck’s theory, I believe students will understand how to control their thought processes better and realise that negative thoughts are consequential of each other. By making cognitive therapy available to students without stigmatisation, students can recognise negative thoughts and errors in logic that cause anxiety and depression. Schools need to do all they can to remove pressure and stress, helping students to perform better in final exams rather than adding to it by giving more work and less help. 

Original image by Caitlin Smithers

James Routledge 2016