Are schools doing enough to support mental health?
The impact schools have for students with mental health
by Chloe Thresher
School was an awful time for me. As a student, I was academic, level headed and determined to succeed. I knew exactly what it was I wanted and I knew how to get there, however hard I knew it would be and whatever was thrown in my path, I wanted to do it.
In 2013 (when I was 14) one of my friendships had a turn for the worse. It resulted in bullying, which led to the start of my mental health problems.
The bullying tore me apart; I didn’t know what to do. I began self-harming and restricting food in a failed bid to manage my thoughts and feelings.
I was very secretive about this at school, I would hide it as well as I could, I never spoke about it. Except one day it just became too much for me, I was in a lot of pain from where I self-harmed, and I was struggling at school. I called my Mum, crying to her in desperation. I wanted someone to stop all the pain. Someone to tell me I didn't have to go back to school. Yes I still just wanted to get through the day.
I remember crying my eyes out to my mum and being told by a teacher to get off my phone. Nothing else, just “put your phone away!”. I just wanted to speak to my Mum. My school didn’t understand.
I went to the school nurse and explained what had happened. They patched me up and sent me on my way to class with no follow up appointment or referral to anyone. It made me think I was just being pathetic. I went to my head of year so many times, but she never dealt with any of the bullying. I felt and still feel like at that time I had no support and despite my calls for help nothing was being dealt with.
In July 2013, together with my parents, I decided to go to the doctors and get help myself. I knew my school weren't going to help and I had to try to get out of the mess I was in.
I waited 9-10 weeks for an appointment with CAMHS. My first appointment was actually fairly quick - a few months after my appointment.
I began CBT to try to change my thoughts around myself as a person. I didn't find CBT helpful personally, I was discharged in April 2014. I was more positive for a few months or so, but I was not back to myself.
I managed to remain stable by focusing on my exams. I would study for around 10 hours a day, if not longer, I wanted to prove to people, and myself, that they hadn’t beaten me. I knew this wasn’t healthy. I began struggling again at the start of year 11, I would have panic attacks during and prior to exams. I never felt like I had done well enough. Still, with no support from my school.
I moved away from the area for sixth form. I wanted, and more so needed a fresh start. I met new people I enjoyed being around them. However, after around 3 months, I became unwell again. Worse than the first time around. I dropped in weight and I began self-harming again. My teachers here however quickly noticed.
My head of year wrote to my doctor and I had an urgent appointment. I was referred straight to A&E to see the psychiatric team on the 8th of January 2016 (6 days before my 18th birthday). I remained in hospital overnight, as I was considered to be unsafe at home. I was 17, left on an adult ward on a Friday night, alone. My parents were sent home, it was horrendous, I didn't sleep all night. At about 10am the next morning, I had the emergency CAMHS team visit and assess me. I was assessed and then sent home that afternoon, without any support for a week. I had treatment for around 4 months, before they put me on medication. I was then in their care for a further 4 months.
I returned to sixth form after my evening at hospital, and spoke to my head of year about my diagnosis. I was treated so well at my sixth form. My teachers had known me for 3 months, but would do anything for me. They offered to be there to talk to every day and were so kind and caring. I was diagnosed with anorexia, depression and anxiety. This was my first anorexia diagnosis.
At sixth form, I was referred to a lovely lady called Emma, the mentor. I would meet Emma every week and we would speak about whatever I needed to chat about. Some days I would just sit and cry, and others I would not stop speaking. But that was ok because that was what Emma was there for. I felt accepted and understood.
Although, I had been offered an extension of my time at sixth form, I decided that I couldn't manage it at that moment, and I decided to leave.
The difference in how I was treated at the two schools was incredible. At sixth form, every student was a credit to them and I felt that they would have done anything for me. It was spoken about like it was normal and not an unusual thing to suffer with. At my secondary school, I felt as though I was a responsibility, even a burden, that they didn’t need – my parents were even told I was being bullied due to my mental state. They were dismissive and made me feel alone in my struggles. I was alienated.
I feel like I would have had a better chance at school if I had people like my head of year at sixth form and Emma, to support me. Schools often don't realise that having someone to talk to can make a huge difference.
I believe early intervention at sixth form saved my life. But, I do also feel that if I had been treated more promptly at my secondary school, things may have never gotten as bad as they did.
I can happily say that I am fully recovered from my illnesses. I can talk about my experiences without being crippled by regret and negative thoughts. It has taken me years to get here, but without the help from my sixth form support team (and obviously, family and friends), who’s to say I would be here and as happy as I am today. I had experiences with 4 different schools from the age of 12 and out of all of them, only 1 of them offered me the support I needed. Having support at school makes a massive difference, and although I know there have been large budget cuts recently, one school managed to support me, so I believe the other schools could have done a lot more to help me too.
If I had known what I do now, I would have pushed for more support at school. Schools do have the facilities to help you when you are struggling. I found that talking to my teachers made a big difference.
Don’t back down, because there are people there to help and you have the right to access that help. You are a student in their school and it doesn’t make you weak or different if you need a little support.
Take care and keep positive!
But, mainly, don’t be ashamed to ask for help, we all need support sometimes.
■ Chloe Thresher
Is your child getting the mental health support they need?