Mental Health Awareness Week has helped shine a light on a topic that is more prevalent today than ever before. In fact, new data has revealed skyrocketed levels of depression amongst students and teachers due to the pandemic. So, in light of the Government’s new £17 million fund, we need to ask if this will really help schools to tackle this shadow epidemic in a meaningful way?
The Office for National Statistics (ONS) has released new data which showcases the depression and mental health challenges that UK citizens have experienced from 27 January to 7 March 2021. The findings are startling.
The report reveals a dramatic national rise in depression, despite varying levels of understanding and acceptance of depression. Before the pandemic, just 10 per cent of UK citizens reported experiencing depressive symptoms. This figure rose to 19 per cent in November 2020 and continued to rise to 21 per cent in March 2021.
ONS data proves that on top of this national increase in depression, students are at an even higher risk of depression by virtue of their age. Young people are 12 per cent more likely to have experienced depressive symptoms than the national average. Additionally, the report found that students are likely to experience mental health differently depending on their class on gender.
Gender was one of the most dramatic and sustained differentials featured in the ONS’ report. In fact, 43 per cent of young women and girls experienced some form of depression in comparison to 26 per cent of men of the same age. After controlling for age and other characteristics, girls and women continued to be more likely than man to experience some form of depression since the pandemic began.
Many factors may have caused this disparity. Firstly, let’s discuss men and boys. Men and boys account for the highest rates of suicide and lowest levels of life satisfaction, including those in education. Despite this, or perhaps because of it, it is exactly this demographic that is the least likely to discuss mental health or accept that they are struggling.
On the other hand, many wider societal problems may account for particularly high rates of depression amongst girls and young women. This includes a 50 per cent rise in domestic abuse related calls made to Refuge, of which the vast majority were from women and girls. Additionally, YouGov recently found that household tasks overwhelmingly fall to girls and women alone. Girls and women in education are likely to have dealt with these widening and oppressive gender roles alongside general pressures caused by the pandemic.
Schools must tackle mental health while keeping in mind these gender differentials that facilitate the wider increase in depression.
Schools in low-income areas and students from low-income families will require the most mental health support because they have suffered from depression the most throughout the pandemic. The ONS’ report found that 31 per cent of people who rent their homes experienced some form of depression, in comparison to just 13 per cent of homeowners. Additionally, 28 per cent of all adults living in the most deprived areas of England experiences depressive symptoms, which compares to just 17 per cent of adults in the least deprives areas of England. Wider recovery policies should also reflect these differentials.
From September to November 2020, there was a staggering 350 per cent rise in mental health support requests from staff at education institutions. While education staff are exposed to the same stresses mentioned above, as well as a possible increase in childcare and caring responsibilities, they have also dealt with ongoing fluctuations in policy which dictate the future of their workplace.
The Government’s new £17 million fund focuses on supporting students. However, teachers are equally in need of support and cannot be forgotten, particularly as many are expected to provide ongoing educational services for their students throughout the summer holidays.
As part of Mental Health Awareness Week, the Government announced a £17 million package to improve mental health and wellbeing support in schools as part of the national Build Back Better project.
By 2025, this fund will ensure that every state school and college in the UK would have received training for a senior mental health lead. Additionally, £7 million will create a Wellbeing for Education Recovery programme, which will provide free expert training, support and resources to help deal with mental health struggles caused by the pandemic.
While this support will benefit millions of pupils, Further Education (FE) institutions must not be forgotten. As the pandemic began, the ONS reported a dramatic decrease in FE and adult learning participation, including a 50.4 per cent decrease in enrolment on adult education and training courses when compared with the year before the pandemic.
FE colleges and adult learning providers need support to build the sector back in a way that facilitates mental health recovery.
While money alone cannot solve the mental health crisis, this fund will help schools to provide the support that students need. This must be paired with wider policies and funding that help those most impacted by the pandemic, including those in low-income areas, as well as extra support for teachers and FE/adult learning institutions.