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Mental health support in schools: An open letter to the Government from a college student

Alfie, 17, shares with the Government his thoughts on why they need to ensure schools and colleges have better mental health support available in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic.

To whom it may concern,

As one of the 11.7 million young people currently attending a British school or college, I am writing to urge you to review the resources available and better the access to mental health support services in our educational establishments, as we begin to enter the post COVID-19 'new normal'. It’s widely reported that my generation – our generation – is going to be one of, if not the worst, hit as a result of the coronavirus. Not just economically, but socially and mentally as well.

It's been socially tough

As you no doubt remember, it’s stressful being a teenager. School, exams, relationships; always having to be thinking about our future – there’s a lot of pressure. Socially, we look to each other to alleviate some of these stresses - we hang out together, party, have fun. Even just seeing our friends in the school canteen helps. But over the past few months, we’ve not been able to do so, and it’ll be a while before we can go back to doing it in the way we’re used to.

Everyone in the UK has been staying at home more to play our part in combating the virus. For my peers and I, that’s meant we’ve lost out on a core aspect of life – our social skill development has been adversely affected. This could potentially lead to an increase in young people experiencing anxiety, depression, and other mental health difficulties. To help support us through this, my friends and I need to have access to the appropriate support services. And we need access to those services quickly, not after a long wait.

Schools need your help

I need you to work with my college Principal, and my friends’ Headteachers, to make sure that they have everything at their disposal to support us. Every school and college needs to have access to in-house counselling. I need you to act so that my tutor isn’t once more left frustrated when he makes a referral to a service that I can’t access until a year after I’ve left college. My peers and I have taken a terrible knock over the past year; we can’t cope with further setback.

I need you to act so that my tutor isn’t once more left frustrated when he makes a referral to a service that I can’t access until a year after I’ve left college.

We need better access to support

But it’s not just our social routine that has been battered thanks to the coronavirus. Those with pre-existing conditions have had their treatments and therapies restricted or, in some cases, removed as a result of lockdown and social distancing; my friend Sam, who needs regular physiotherapy, hasn’t been able to access it, which means that as his physical symptoms have worsened, so has his mental state. And I’m devastated – as I’m sure you will be too – for Alice, who didn’t feel able to engage with her group sessions when they switched to being run online, and so the progression she was making in combatting her social anxiety has turned to regression.

There is one more group of my peers that I’d like to draw your attention to: those in Year 6, Year 11, and Year 13. They’re making a transition which is scary at any time - ‘moving up’ schools. They didn’t get the chance to go to Prom, or have a Leavers’ Assembly, or anything else which we do to provide closure and to mark the end of those big chapters in our life. So, as they move into secondary school, college and university, they too are going to need even more help than normal to adjust to their new surroundings. We’re counting on you to help them as much as possible.

Those with pre-existing conditions have had their treatments and therapies restricted or, in some cases, removed as a result of lockdown and social distancing.

My friends and I know that – as much as everyone would like there to be – there isn’t a magic wand. Nobody can provide a cure-all overnight, just as a coronavirus vaccine is going to take time to develop. But what we can do is work together, in partnership, to design and develop strategies which are going to help as many people as possible, as quickly as possible.

 

Author: Alfie, 17

Where to get support

If you're struggling with your mental health, have a look at our find help page for tips, advice and information on what support is available to you.

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