Just over 60% of secondary school teachers have seen mental health problems emerge among students who were previously unknown to have them within the past year, according to a new survey.
The figure is in stark contrast to the 4% of teachers who report no significant changes among their students' mental health over the past 12 months.
Experts have been warning of the potential mental health impact the pandemic and resultant lockdown restrictions could have on students and young people, with the lack of usual social networks a major contributor.
As a result, the government recently confirmed a £79 million funding boost for mental health resources provided by schools, as part of a broader £500 million investment for improving mental health services.
The new statistics come from a survey commissioned by the National Foundation for Educational Research (NFER) which asked over 700 teachers and senior leaders from secondary schools about the mental health of their students.
Over three quarters of respondents reported an increased rate of anxiety and depressive symptoms, as well as reduced motivation and engagement in students.
Seven in 10 also reported a worsening of symptoms in pupils with existing mental health issues.
Despite an increased awareness among school staff of the mental health of pupils, many also report barriers to providing appropriate support.
A majority of school leaders (85%) said that mental health is a priority at their school, but over half reported a lack of time and too few on-hand qualified staff to support the mental health needs of pupils.
Insufficient targeted support (49%), lack of teacher training (35%) and a focus on academic catch-up (33%) were also identified as barriers.
The survey results are released at the same time as new research findings from the Early Intervention Foundation (EIF), which reveal a link between behavioural problems in childhood and poorer mental health outcomes in adulthood.
Due to be released as part of a report next month, the EIF says that its findings reveal an urgent need for early intervention and prevention approaches, as well as gaps in evidence regarding the long-term impact of emotional and behavioural problems in ethnic minority, special educational needs and disability, and LGBT+ demographics.
The report will also detail methods of how best to support young students, including improving mental health training for teachers and the role of cognitive behavioural therapy programmes.
“Adolescence can be a period of vulnerability, during which mental health problems commonly occur," says Dr Aleisha Clarke, review author and mental health lead at the EIF. "That’s why it’s essential that we invest in prevention and early intervention to reduce vulnerabilities and enhance young people’s mental health and wellbeing.
“The government’s funding for child and adolescent mental health is welcome. We now need to ensure that this investment is placed in support that is likely to work. We have seen convincing evidence on the impact of prevention interventions based on principles of cognitive behavioural therapy.”
To find out more about the survey, click here.
Written by Marco Ricci
Editor and contributor for Talking Mental Health