Could a Schooling Shakeup help Adolescent Mental Health?

A couple of decades ago I was in school, and although it feels like a lifetime ago, the emotions connected to my experience there are still very prominent.

School was pure, unequivocal hell, painfully lonely, I couldn’t do anything right and I was in trouble all the time.

From a mental health point of view I think school was damaging. Due my lack of academic success, I thought I was thick and I couldn’t see how I could ever be worth anything. Every test I did I got low scores, I couldn’t communicate how I felt and it led to suicide attempts.

I now have two sons that don’t like school and I don’t want them to feel as I did. Schools mostly focus on academia. I want my kids to have an awareness that education and academia is important but there’s a lot more to life.

Some kids are on medication for focus because they have to get through GCSEs, get A-levels and university degrees.

I couldn’t sit down and learn French, I could barely write English. What reason was there for me to go through this torture? It’s ridiculous we focus and point our children at GCSEs and Uni when it’s not that important. There’s far too much weight out on it and it causes so much pain and suffering. We need to remove these expectations on our kids. It’s not the end of the world if you don’t do well in school. You’re not thick or a failure.

As a 14 year old I was told I had the reading age of a nine year old. That still upsets me today. I have a high IQ but what I went through made me feel stupid.

I wonder if it was it because we didn’t understand mental health? At 12 I was put on Ritalin and Prozac for two years and I still don’t have any memories from those times. They medicated me instead of sorting out the issue. I have ADHD and OCD but they didn’t understand it. I think it is getting better but the overall school system is still much the same.

My experience of school created a bit of a monster in my desire to learn. In recent years, people have mentioned that my general knowledge is high. I think it was actually a positive effect of a negative experience. I decided to push myself as hard as possible, to prove to those around me that laughed when I got 20% in a maths test that I do have knowledge and intelligence. 

I think one of the reasons we’re having a mental health crisis now is because there is too much pressure on kids in schools. Self-harm rates in young girls are through the roof. The most significant figures show that it’s during puberty when we do our GCSEs. I believe that one of the reasons we are seeing such a spike in mental health issues is the pressure of academia. It’s better than it was, we are more aware of mental health, but it’s not enough.

Adolescents leave school ill-equipped to deal with the real world and I believe this can cause mental health problems. We’re are told at teenage that we are making life long decisions at GCSE but the majority if people will have multiple careers throughout their lives. So why put so much pressure on our youth?

We don’t teach how to cook, purify water, manage our money, we don’t teach the life skills that are quintessential to life. We know that if we keep our nutrition up our body and mind do better but we don’t teach people about seasonal eating. A principal thing we worry about as adults is how to manage a work life balance but this isn’t taught in schools in the UK.

That the law imply states “a child must receive an appropriate education” what an appropriate education is, is defined by the “main educator” – main educators are the parents.

No parent in the country has to send their children to school and a child can be removed from the school system but it is not easy to do. In the present time, where both parents normally work, it is all but impossible to home school.

I would have deregistered my boys from school if I could have found a way to home educate because I do not believe in the school system and I think it’s damaging to mental health.

We need to look at other systems of schooling and amplify classes such as mindfulness and meditation that are thankfully finally making their way onto the curriculum.

I don’t believe GCSE’s or A levels need replacing as such but I do think the gravity they carry should be much better represented. I also think there should be alternatives to them like apprenticeship schemes, that are held in the same regard. None of the stigma of ‘oh, you are just doing an apprenticeship’ which I have seen and heard myself.

I don’t suffer suicidal thoughts anymore but it worries me for my boys. I have found my own value now and people ask me to help in all sorts of ways. It’s almost galvanised and driven me to make sure I can do anything. I have a thirst to learn whatever I can and a passion for gathering knowledge on how to live well and as a whole person. This knowledge will be passed onto my boys and I hope they learn their own value much sooner than I did.