Wednesday 25 April 2018

Pressure on pupils as stress levels are growing

Only 40pc can cope with their problems

John Walshe Education Editor

HALF of all 15-17-year-old students experience moderate to severe stress, an alarming new study reveals.

The poll of 1,400 secondary students across the country has painted a worrying picture of the mental pressures pupils are feeling in schools.

It reveals higher levels of eating disorders, body-image problems, self-harming, alcohol and substance abuse among young people.

"Many of these worrying conditions develop in slavish imitation of some of the less-worthy aspects of a media-obsessed worldwide celebrity culture," Dr Mike Power, project leader with the Mater child and adolescent mental health service, told the Irish Independent.

Details of the survey are revealed as second-level teachers today meet for their annual conferences -- the ASTI in Galway and the TUI in Ennis, Co Clare.

Although pay and the recruitment moratorium will dominate debate, the effects of cutbacks on student services will also be discussed.

The 1,400 students were surveyed on their stress and coping skills on three different occasions over two-and-a-half years.

Only 40pc felt they could cope well with their problems. One in 10 of those with serious problems admitted they did not seek any professional help.

The study suggests that the results-orientated academic culture in schools is placing great demands on students and teachers alike.

But the social and emotional development of students is almost untouched by the formal educational syllabus, it finds.

Dr Power said most schools give at least nominal adherence to policies and practices supportive of the personal development of pupils in areas such as pastoral care, Social, Personal and Health Education (SPHE), guidance counselling and visiting speakers.

"However, as the economic recession bites hard and people struggle to cope, many schoolgoers endure daily the negative effects of financial pressures, increased family conflict, acute stress, addictions, unemployment and much more.

"Unfortunately, many harassed teachers and schools often have to absorb the consequences of these contemporary negative social developments from their pupils."

Dr Power said schools were a very important part of the social mix to which young people were exposed.

As professionals who interact with adolescents on a daily basis, teachers are at the frontline in confronting these and other mental-health issues.

Dr Power and his team have developed a ground-breaking resource called Working Things Out, which is used in SPHE classes to help students to confront issues that may be causing them stress.

"Preliminary results of the research are very encouraging and provide solid support for the effectiveness of this kind of school-based intervention," said Dr Power.

He added: "In particular, it seems that young people whose distress levels are high to begin with benefit relatively more than their less-stressed peers."

Irish Independent

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