Recent research suggests that as many as 1 in 6 young people will experience an anxiety condition at some point in their lives, this means that up to 5 people in a class may be living with anxiety, whether that be OCD (obsessive compulsive disorder), social anxiety and shyness, exam stress, worry or panic attacks.
School can be a tricky experience for most teenagers but for many anxiety can make their time a lot more difficult. For the lucky ones they have the support of an understanding team of pastoral carers and teachers, but for others this is far from reality. School is filled with challenges that can make an anxiety sufferer dread 9am. From simply putting their hands up and giving an answer, to introductions to class members on the first day of school, their education can be riddled with obstacles. It is clear from videos such as this that awareness of anxiety in schools should be made a high priority and learning how to deal with such a disorder should be essential. Of course, this wouldn't include separating and pointing out students who struggle but simply learning the signs and helping them through their difficulties. Students with mental health problems can sometimes be criticised for lacking motivation or drive in class, but often this isn't the case. Just because someone doesn't put their hand up it does not mean they are not motivated to learn. Anxiety makes a person worried about what people around them think as well as giving them a fear of making mistakes. This is why someone may not be completely comfortable with giving their answer in front of the whole class. No-one should be made to feel abandoned while going through mental health problems, and as young people spend the majority of their time at school it should be an environment where they feel supported and understood.
This is not to say that it is like this in every school, I can only speak from personal experience. And although many of my teachers were extremely patient with me a number of them seemed to lack the patience and understanding that’s required with such a delicate issue. I remember dreading the first day of the new school term when we would be made to stand in a circle and introduce ourselves to new classmates. We had a large school year so many of them were near enough strangers to me. I would feel an instant pang of panic in the pit of my stomach when we were told we had to think of 2 interesting facts about ourselves. ‘What do I say’, ‘What about if people don’t find what I have to say interesting’ and ‘What about if people laugh at me’ are just a few examples of the thoughts that would go cartwheeling around my head. I asked to speak to the teacher outside and explained the situation. ‘You’ll be fine’ they said, ‘You can go last if that would help’. No it wouldn’t, but as a quiet girl I lacked the confidence to tell my teacher this so I agreed and went back into the class. We started going around the circle and as each person had their turn I could feel the butterflies rising from my tummy into my throat. I knew exactly what was going to happen, I had learnt to recognise the signs of a panic attack. I could feel my breath getting short, my heart starting to beat faster and my palms becoming sweaty. I put my hand up and asked to go to the bathroom, when I got there I started to cry and rang my mum to come and pick me up from school. That was my first lesson of the day, half an hour in and I had already been pushed to my limit.
No child should be made to feel singled out or different to others but, in this situation, I feel that as a teacher they should’ve been informed how to deal with my anxiety, to be delicate and understanding. They could’ve given me some other work to do or asked me to go pick up some printing as not to alert my classmates as to something being wrong. Why is it that teachers are taught about how to pick up on the signs of extremism and not also on anxiety when it is so prevalent in today’s children?
'I feel like my time at school/college would have been so much easier if some of my teachers had taken the time to understand what I was going through.'
Statistics from: https://www.anxietyuk.org.uk/our-services/anxiety-information/young-people-and-anxiety/