From friendship group difficulties to exam pressures to new relationships; there’s a lot going in the lives of secondary school students that can impact on their mental health.

And a series of recent reports and studies show that many young people across the country are having to balance coping with mental health issues alongside schoolwork, family life and other interests and hobbies.

According to NHS digital figures released last week, one in seven 11 to 16 year olds and one in six 17 to 19 year olds had a mental health disorder, when assessed in 2017.

And nearly one in three girls aged between 13 and 17 feel overwhelmed by worry often or all the time, compared with 11% of boys, according to a report published this week by Addaction.

This study also found that more than one in five girls aged 13 to 17 said they think about hurting themselves some or all of the time, twice the rate of boys.

These are all worrying statistics – especially as a report by the Children’s Commissioner revealed last week that more than a third of children referred to Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services (CAMHS) last year were not admitted into specialist treatment or were discharged after an assessment appointment.

Huge changes

“There are some huge changes in the lives of young people at this age. It can be really hard to cope,” said BACP member Ros Sewell.

She is one of the leads at Here4You, a counselling service that runs across four schools and colleges in London and is run by the Metanoia Institute.

“For those that have just started at secondary school, it’s a big change. There’s a lot of talk about friendship groups,” she added.

“Young people are feeling isolated, arguing with each other, arranging their friends in a pecking order.

“It’s a massive deal for them; you can’t underestimate that or the effect it can have on their mental health.”

One in seven 11 to 16 year olds had a mental health disorder when assessed in 2017, according to NHS digital figures

One in seven 11 to 16 year olds had a mental health disorder when assessed in 2017, according to NHS digital figures

Ros added: “There can be problems with bullying, as they grow older they are developing different relationships, this is often the age when LGBT issues come to the forefront.

“They often just want to talk to someone, but it may be that they cannot talk to someone at home.”

Another issue is low self-esteem and worries about what they are achieving; in their school work or exam results.

“There’s a lot of focus on achievement at this age. Schools are under a lot of pressure to get good results. Young people feel they are not good enough.

“Young people can become withdrawn or isolated. This can go as far as leading to suicide attempts, self-harm, suicidal thoughts.”

Attention seeking is attention needing

“People often refer to these young people as being unbearable in class.  But attention seeking is actually attention needing. We need to reframe this for young people who are becoming withdrawn. We need to look at things a little differently so we can help.

“One of the things about being a school counsellor is it’s a role of advocacy. Sometimes you need a person in the middle to help and to look at what is positive for them.

“It’s about engaging with the young person until they respond differently and trying to negotiate a system so that it works for them.”

Last week Children’s Commissioner for England Anne Longfield called for an NHS-funded counsellor to be in every school, something BACP strongly supports.

And Ros has seen first-hand how school counsellors can make a difference in young people’s lives.

Ros added: “As a counsellor you are helping them make sense of what they are experiencing and how they are feeling. Talking about what they are going through can absolutely help. It’s really important to talk.

“Counselling can help them grow in confidence, understanding and belief.

“It is wonderful to see how this can help.”

If you want to seek advice or help about children’s and young people’s mental health issues you can find a BACP counsellor or psychotherapist via our Therapist directory.