Young people in exam years have faced huge disruption and are now looking at months of doing nothing. It’s not a recipe for good mental health.
Parents – and children – have been on the receiving end of the many u-turns, changes in guidance and some rather incredible inconsistencies when it comes to education over the last year and a half. Take, for example, sports days, proms, school plays and the like – many of which have been cancelled, even though sports days are outside, while every night we see thousands of sports fans gathered together with no masks and are told by the news that fans are social distancing when it is patently obvious that they aren’t, particularly when England scores. None of it seems to make any kind of sense, except for short-term economic gain.
Many restrictions and bubbles are now going out the window in England as caution is thrown to the wind and the buck is passed to employers, businesses and individuals. Anxiety levels are likely to soar, with low levels of trust based on previous experience of bad decision-making being a major factor.
So much for the Covid policy, but what about education policy? Where is it? Kids have spent the last months in and out of school with varying degrees of support. I’ve got two kids in exam years this year. They have spent months staring at their walls trying to focus while grieving, gone back to school to exams, had panic attacks, got Covid, stayed off for months again, been told their exams are cancelled, returned to school to almost continuous testing and survived and indeed got good marks. That is quite an achievement.
And now what? They finished in May and have months of nothing after which, in my younger daughter’s case, they are expected to resume their studies. I know my kids have had a lot more than many to cope with, but then again many people have faced huge challenges over the past 18 months. One has got a job, which is great. The other has given up. I suspect many other families are going through the same thing.
I’m not a big advocate of making kids spend the whole summer studying. In my view, what they need is not more cramming and stress after the last year. They need friends; they need to express how they feel; and they need music and art and fun. But instead due to cuts in the very areas they need most they are back staring at the walls. It’s negligence on a mass scale.
It’s not the schools’ fault. There is a void where policy should be. So what do you do as a parent? Contact the GP, get counselling [if you can get on the very long waiting list], encourage trips out [has anyone in the Cabinet ever tried getting a depressed teenager to go out?]… The mental health services are completely overloaded – the best you can hope for is counselling over the phone or Zoom [not teenagers’ favourite medium], usually CBT-based which doesn’t always work. It’s reactive stuff in most cases and young people know it.
The Resolution Foundation published a report this week which showed the huge impact mental health issues are having on young people and how they fear that this will affect their work prospects. Covid has obviously made things worse, but they were not good before Covid. Something is very wrong when so many young people are so unhappy. This is not just something for individuals and their families. It is a national crisis and we should start addressing it as such.