Tell us your story of stress at school

Tell us your story of stress at school. What is it at your school that puts too much pressure on you and your schoolmates? It is petty rules, or constant tests, or detentions? It is being bullied, or shouted at, or being given too much homework? How does it affect you and other students?

Post a comment and let’s tell each other what’s going on. You don’t have to give your real name or the name of your school. Just tell us what town or area you are in.

And if you’ve left school but still remember what was distressing about it, we’d like to hear from you too.

Young people and mental health – a political issue

This article, by Joe Booth, was originally published in Solidarity newspaper in March 2017.

Statistics show that help for young people with mental health issues is dramatically decreasing. A 2016 investigation by the Guardian and 38 Degrees showed that trusts around England were “drawing up plans for hospital closures and cutbacks” in an attempt to avoid a £20 billion shortfall by 2020. This means that young people aren’t getting the help they need or deserve.

Some 75% of mental health issues begin before the age of 18. The charity, MQ, estimates that on average, there are three children in every classroom with a diagnosable mental illness or unrecognised mental health problems. In January, a 16-year-old friend of my family committed suicide: she was severely depressed, and the problems in the world were hard for her to cope with.

She was not alone. 26% of young people in the United Kingdom experience suicidal thoughts. Likewise, the 44% of 16-24-year-old LGBT+ people who are frequently bullied are at a higher risk of suicide, self-mutilation and/or depression. Looked-after children and care leavers are between four and five times more likely to attempt suicide in adulthood. 18.9% of looked-after children below the age of five (19.3% of boys and 17.4% of girls) showed signs of behavioural or emotional problems.

These statistics emphasise that there are too many young people — and adults — who kill themselves, harm themselves or suffer from depression because of living under an oppressive and alienating society. Depression and self-hatred may come from loneliness or pessimism, or from alienation and oppression. We need improvements in facilities to help young people. YoungMinds is the UK’s leading charity committed to improving the emotional wellbeing and mental health of children and young people.

According to them, more than 850,000 children and young people in the UK have been diagnosed with a mental health condition. YoungMinds do the best they can as the leading organisation committed to philanthropically helping people, but they are limited by being a charity. Young people may receive help from this charity, or from CAMHS (Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services), but we also need to discuss and address why young people are suffering, and the ultimate solution to it.

I want to respond to the death of my family friend by learning from her and campaigning for the politics that will prevent it happening again.

We need not just philanthropy but political demands and a significant change. I think we need help groups or services to become politically radical and open to the prevention of young people harming themselves or become depressed. We need a fund or organisation that is socialistic, with an overall objective to understand why young people with mental health issues, and neurodivergent young people, commit suicide, harm themselves and/or suffer from depression, and to consider the solution to it. We need solidarity against the causes of mental ill-health and low self-esteem; we need activism and revolutionary socialist politics.

Why we’ve chosen to launch this campaign: Take The Stress Out Of Studying

The Clarion magazine interviewed Joe Booth, one of the founding campaigners

Clarion: Why do we need to take the stress out of studying?
We need education so we can learn things so we can contribute to society. If we are stressed while studying we are not contributing. It is not just students but also school workers. But just looking at students school pressure goes way beyond what is needed to motivate us: it is exams, it is regimentation, rigidity of the curriculum, and it is everything that removes democracy from the running of education.
Students often deal with this stress by misbehaving in lessons. Often it leads to students not wanting to be in school. School is regimented as it emulates the workplace. This is not the sort of education we need, we want an education that allows us to think for ourselves.
Clarion: What could be done to make studying less stressful?
We should abolish exams. Detentions could be abolished or reformed. Teachers need more support, resources and smaller class sizes so they are not stressed when dealing with students, and passing that stress onto them. We should abolish academies, and bring all existing academies back into local control. Students need more individual attention and support. Lessons should be about the subject, not about how to pass the exam. Cuts to special education needs support needs to stop, and be reversed. We also need to fight against the huge cuts coming to schools which will see schools losing even more teachers and support workers.
This happens in universities as well. 27% of university students report having mental health problems while studying, with higher rates amongst women and LGBT students.
Clarion: How can school workers (teachers etc) be involved in a campaign to take the stress out of studying?
They can campaign on the stress that effects school workers, as this impacts on the education of students. The National Education Union should organise a serious campaign around school worker stress, but also the causes of this stress. We need ideas about how to create a different form of education system which is not based on jumping through exam and assessment hoops, and conform to a restrictive curriculum.
We want them to unite with students who face stress, and are organising against it.
Clarion: What can people who want to get involved do for the campaign?
In your school you could organise a petition around a specific issue/s that affects you and your school mates or the workers in the school. And you can have further discussions on how to solve all of these issues in our movement.

Founding statement

This is the founding statement of Take the Stress Out of Studying:
There is increasing awareness about young people’s and students’ mental health. But we need more than awareness. We need action.
Mental health problems affect one in ten children and young people. 27% of university students report experiencing mental health problems, with higher rates among women and LGBT+ students. Young people’s mental health is worsening: depression and anxiety among teenagers have increased by 70% in the past 25 years ; in 2015, 231 young people aged 10-19 took their own lives, the highest number for 14 years.
Staff in schools, colleges and universities also face increasing stress, with ever-rising workload, stretched resources, inspections and job insecurity. Many are leaving their jobs. Working in education is the second most stressed profession, with 2,310 cases of work-related stress, depression or anxiety.
We refuse to allow this appalling situation to continue unchallenged.
We need support services for these students, young people and education workers. We also need to address the reasons that they are becoming mentally unwell, including: exam pressure; bullying; large class sizes; authoritarian school regimes; rigidity of the curriculum; financial hardship; and cuts in Special Educational Needs support. Government policies, driven by austerity and hostility to public services, have made these worse.
We want an education system where students get the individual attention they need; where they can learn about their subjects rather than about how to pass the next exam; where they do not have to work in low-paid, insecure jobs while trying to study for a degree; and where staff have secure jobs with decent pay and conditions. These and other policies will also make education more accessible to those who currently do not take part in it.
We want to campaign to Take The Stress Out Of Studying, uniting students, workers, parents, trade unions and the labour movement to draw up and mobilise for demands that will reverse austerity attacks, reduce distress and improve mental health. We invite you to help us build such a campaign.
Signatories: Joe Booth, school student; Mandy Hudson, Equality seat, National Educational Union (ex-NUT section); Zack Muddle, NCAFC (National Campaign Against Fees and Cuts) National Committee, Bristol Labour LGBT+ Officer; Lorna Tooley, Young Members’ Committee President, National Union of Rail, Maritime and Transport Workers; Stuart Jordan, Secretary, Truro and Falmouth Constituency Labour Party; Janine Booth, co-Chair, TUC Disabled Workers’ Committee
If you would like to add your name, please comment below or email Joe Booth