Elizabeth's story: In support of our Christmas appeal, Elizabeth blogs about the affect pressure from school has on her mental health.
Every time I imagine sitting my GSCE exams, I feel like I can’t breathe properly. And that my life is going to be ruined if I don’t do really well.
Mental health never gets mentioned at school, so it feels like this shameful subject to bring up. I would feel like I’d have a black mark against my name and all the teachers would know, and would talk about me behind my back. Once you tell someone, you can’t take it back, and I feel like it’s just not worth taking the risk.
I’m 15 and I’m in year 11. I’ve got really good friends but I also struggle to talk to people who aren’t in my friendship group. I’m quite shy with people, and it’s something I’d really like to change about myself. I want to go to university after sixth-form and probably study English.
"Every time I imagine sitting my GSCE exams, I feel like I can’t breathe properly."
I’ve got anxiety, although I’ve never been to the doctors about it. I talk to my friends - we talk about mental health quite a lot actually. But I definitely wouldn’t feel comfortable talking to a teacher about it.
School is really, really high pressure. The teachers care a lot about what results we get, and I feel like if you don’t get top marks then you’ve basically failed. I feel really stressed about keeping up with all my work and I often feel I’m not clever enough or I don’t work hard enough. It feels like you can never do enough. I’m obsessed with how my friends are doing and how my marks compare to them.
My French teacher is quite aggressive, and I don’t know if they realise how anxious it makes me. When I’ve got French the next day I can’t sleep, and it’s really hard to make myself do the revision I know I need to do because I’m so scared about failing. I know it sounds stupid, but the more scared I am about doing badly, the more difficult it is to do the work. Sometimes I end up setting my alarm for 4am to get up and do homework I haven’t been able to face the night before. But then what I do isn’t very good because I’m really tired.
"I often feel I’m not clever enough or I don’t work hard enough. It feels like you can never do enough."
Sometimes I can’t see any way out. I’m in this spiral of panicking about school, not being able to concentrate, not doing my work, getting bad marks and panicking more. I don't know how to break out of it.
It’s difficult to talk to people about how I feel. It just feels like the words get stuck in my throat. I don’t really know how to explain why I’m so anxious and I’m afraid to admit how I’m really feeling, in case it sounds really weird out loud. When I talk to my mum, I try and put a positive spin on it because I know she worries about me. Sometimes she sees me crying about school, and she’s seen me have panic attacks before, but I find it difficult to explain why, except to say that I hate school.
The pressure of exams if having a really, really bad effect on a lot of people. Not just me, probably half my year. There are loads of people who’ve started self-harming really badly. Some have eating disorders too, but it never gets mentioned, even though absolutely everyone in my year knows about it.
"I think just getting mental health to be discussed honestly in schools is probably half the battle."
I feel like all the teachers care about is the reputation of the school, and they keep pushing and pushing us to work more and more. It makes me angry because I feel like if someone had a physical health problem it would be taken really seriously, but because they can’t see mental health problems it’s easy for them to ignore it.
I don’t really know what our headteacher should do about it but they need to know it’s a problem, and that it can contribute to people having mental health problems when they’re older. I’d really like it if teachers talked about their own mental health. Maybe if they did it wouldn’t feel so scary to go to them.
"I’d really like it if teachers talked about their own mental health. Maybe if they did it wouldn’t feel so scary to go to them."
Mind’s work on children and young people is really important. I think just getting mental health to be discussed honestly in schools is probably half the battle. Mental health doesn’t seem like a priority right now, but it should be. If young people were less stressed and anxious, they’d generally be a lot happier and they might actually learn more.
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