New research shows that seven in 10 (69.8%) therapists working with children noticed an increase in under 18’s getting stressed over their exams or school over the past year, according to data from our 2023 Mindometer survey.

Increase in exam and school stress

It also showed that almost half (47.6%) of therapists working with children and young people say they saw an increase in stress in children the past year that was unrelated to school or exams.

Children, Young People and Families Lead at BACP, Jo Holmes, said:

“Family issues, the cost of living, exams, bullying, pressures of social media, self-worth, and the effects of the pandemic are some of the reasons why children are stressed right now. And we know that when a child feels stressed, it can have a tsunami sized effect on all areas of their life – including their ability to learn in school which impacts their futures.

Government investment desperately needed

“NHS services simply does not have the capacity to meet the rising need in children and young people's mental health, so more investment from the government is desperately needed to increase access to therapy in schools. We believe that a paid counsellor should be available in every secondary school, academy and FE college in England - in Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland counselling is available to all post-primary children. We hope to see this reflected in the Chancellor’s Autumn Statement next month.

“It’s also important to state that many children find it difficult to verbalise their problems. But when a child expresses their worries and anxieties to a therapist, they help them to explore their feelings, using a number of creative and evidence based approaches to how best to manage their anxiety responses and gain back control.”

Young people unable to cope

School counsellor and BACP member, Pete English, said:

“Over the last few years, I’ve noticed more young people appearing to be overwhelmed and unable to cope with the everyday challenges of school. Many have been, and still are, affected by the impacts of covid, but whether I’m helping them with exam stress or friendship falls outs, on the whole children seem to be lacking the internal resources to cope and are not as resilient – which heightens and exacerbates any feelings of stress.

“Parents, who are also under more pressure, seem to be more stressed too which young people pick up on. One technique I’ve found that really helps is teaching my clients how to use breathing techniques to relax. I also teach them how their bodies react to any threats, like stress, so they understand the physical symptoms.”

Common causes of stress for young people

School counsellor and BACP member, Susie Pinchin, added:

“Dealing with the disruption of lock down still impacts children, both on an academic and social interaction level. Social media, with its ever-increasing apps and tools to troll, is also a constant source of stress for young people. With younger year groups, I often hear of friendship and family issues. Some children also struggle to cope with moving into secondary school and the extra workload and expectations. Sixth form students also start to worry about their next stage of life - leaving the world they have known for the last seven years or so.

“Working in a high achieving school, the students I see often tell me about the pressure of their personal statements and grades to get into university and choosing subjects for A level. They talk of parents wanting them take subjects they don't want to do, and we discuss how to manage this. Sometimes they share their fears of fitting in and finding friends at university and the practical arrangements of moving into adulthood.

Normalising stress

“If you are aware of a child or young person who is suffering from stress, it’s important to direct them to support - whether that is a teacher, pastoral member of staff, counsellor, and parents. Let them know they are allowed to feel their emotions and always keep communication open. Talking is sharing the load and allowing the young person to know they don't have to manage things on their own. Normalising stress is important for children to understand it is a part of life and we can learn to handle it with the right tools.”

At the end of November, BACP will host a roundtable event with partners to explore the impact of the cost of living on children’s and young people’s mental health.