Too Much Too Young

Stress

Young People and Stress

It’s that time of year! For the millions of students and senior school pupils this time of year means only one thing: looming exams. 

In this month’s blog post I ask:

  • Are our young people weighed down with the world of worries before they are even out of education?
  • Are we creating a nation of achievers at the expense of their everyday health, happiness and well-being?
  • At what point should we ask ourselves if the rising levels of stress and mental health problems in young people are simply a case of Too much Too Young?

From my own personal experience of working with people of all ages, I have seen a worrying increase in the number of younger clients especially with anxiety related issues. 

Facts

To begin with some facts on this growing hornets nest:

  • 1 in 10 children or young people are affected by a mental health problem according to the Mental Health Foundation, 70% of whom do not receive appropriate support. 
  •  Childline saw a 200% increase in young people mentioning exam stress and pressure to perform during counselling sessions in the 2015-16 period with 90% of calls from girls. 
  • Findings of the Girl Guides Association published in 2018 found that 59% of girls in the 11-21 age group said social media is a main cause of stress. 

I could go on and on. Mental health problems can include anxiety, panic attacks, depression, self-harm and eating disorders. Three especially worrying trends include:

  1. Growing evidence that stress has become an issue for primary school children.
  2. The sharp rise in figures over the last 10 years with David Lloyd, Headmaster of Solihull School describing pupils as being under the worst pressure in generations. 
  3. The especially large increase in mental health problems in young females with 26% of young women in the 16-24 age group having experienced a mental health problem compared to 9% of men (NHS Digital). 

Reasons why

What then are the reasons behind these trends? Today’s young people are being bombarded from all angles including:

  1. Parental Pressure. As parents we want the best for our children yet we are also well aware of the golden ticket of academic achievement. 
  2. Academic Pressure. With the relentless timetable of continuous testing and intense pressure on grades and ratings, pupils, teachers and schools are all under tremendous pressure to perform. 
  3. Social Pressure. Like it or not, the unreal world of youtube, instagram and snapchat is our young people’s playground. With today’s selfie culture and social media portraying picture perfect social lives, the pressure to look good and body image concerns are greater than ever and start younger than ever. 

They may have an A Grade in Chemistry but what help are all those years in education in dealing with the inevitable rejections from today’s highly competitive job market, financial worries from student debt and even family breakdowns and everyday relationships. Is it any wonder the melting pot is bubbling over?

What Can Be Done?

The government’s pledge of £1.25 billion by 2020 for young people’s mental health services is a good start. 

In addition:

  • Employers need to drive a change in education to end the exam factory in favour of broader development of our young people. 
  • Schools need to equip pupils with their own set of personal coping skills and strategies: self-belief, perseverance and resilience to deal with challenges and difficulties as well as time management, planning, organisation and financial skills to cope with the multitude of demands on them.
  • Putting in support to help those with mental health problems is one side of the equation. However without addressing the root of the increased pressure, this is a sticking plaster approach.

In my view it’s time to change raising our children in a world that seems to care more about their academic success than their wellbeing. We all want our children to be happy and healthy. To achieve this, we first need to let some air out of the tyres and also equip them with their own personal maintenance and breakdown kit. 

Three simple tips for anyone with exams ahead include:

  1. Be prepared. Start early enough with steady consistent work to avoid added last minute stress from cramming. 
  2. Peak performance of your brain is critical for learning, concentration and retention. Check out the Pomodoro time management  technique: 25 mins study periods with 5 mins break are deemed to be optimum for the brain. 
  3.  Take good care of yourself: good food, restful sleep and daily activity or exercise are just as important as those hours of study. 
  4. Make time to relax too. Headspace or similar meditation app can be great for an overactive mind especially at bedtime.
  5.  Put things in perspective. Whilst it’s good to do your best, in the end, a poor exam result or unsuccessful job application isn’t the end of the world. Often in a funny way these things can end up working out better than you could ever have imagined. 

I wish I’d known about you earlier are words I’ve had spoken about me more than once. If you, or anyone you know, is suffering from stress and anxiety and could benefit from help, I’m always happy to fix an initial chat.  

Image: Tim Gouw