In most cases teachers and educators go into the job because they want to help the next generation grow and develop. They’re passionate about learning, about seeing potential and transforming it into something amazing, about making a difference.
But the youth mental health crisis is making that hard. Absence levels are at an all-time high, with one in five persistently absent over the last academic year. And a key cause of this is mental health.
New figures from mental health app Wysa show that the children and young people’s UK mental health crisis is worse than estimated. Over 1 in 3 13-17-year-olds surveyed indicate symptoms of depression or anxiety that warrant investigation – and 82% self-report a range of mental health issues such as anxiety (49% – rising to 63% of females), trouble sleeping (21%), dislike of image (26%), fear of socialising (29%) and other concerns. Half are worried about their parents’ money, showing influence of news agenda and the cost of living crisis on teenagers’ mental health.
Official figures point to 1 in 6, but this data suggests something much more widespread. In fact, it suggests that 1.3 million 13-17-year-olds have symptoms of anxiety and depression that could warrant further investigation.
But most worryingly, young people aren’t getting the help that they need. More than half (55%) who scored 3 or more on GAD2 and PHQ2 screening questionnaires for anxiety and depression haven’t spoken to a relevant professional about it.
Teachers want to help but don’t have resources or support to do so. A survey conducted by the National Education Union found that 92% of teachers in the UK say their schools lack sufficient access to child and adolescent mental health services. Out of over 18,000 union members surveyed, 66% of teachers and 57% of learning support assistants said their educational institutions do not provide adequate CAMHS access for students. Additionally, a quarter of teachers and a third of support staff report that their schools have no access to CAMHS support and that lack of support is cited as a major barrier to supporting students’ mental health.
Another study reveals that only a quarter of primary schools in England will be able to provide essential school-based mental health support by the end of 2024. Despite the high levels of young people estimated to have a mental health disorder, and how crucial specialist support is in addressing early symptoms and alleviating pressure on stretched NHS services, there are worrying gaps. Almost three quarters (73.4%) of primary schools and over half (53.5%) of secondary schools are predicted to lack access to these mental health support teams by the end of 2024 – a huge gap in provision that could have long term consequence.
And their mental health is also suffering. According to the 2022 Teacher Wellbeing Index – a survey carried out by the charity Education Support – 78% of UK school staff reportedly experienced mental health symptoms due to their work in the past academic year and 59% of staff had considered leaving the profession.
So everyone is struggling. And it’s affecting not only health, but education levels, and long-term potential in employment, relationships, and even levels of crime.
Digital could be part of the answer. Existing CAMHS services in schools are sporadic, sparse, and not frequent enough. There’s only so much that can be done in a weekly appointment, and the stigma a young person feels around firstly telling a teacher they need support, and then getting up and leaving class to go to a session can be a huge barrier. Their mental health challenges don’t just strike at an allotted time – they can flare up anywhere, anyhow, and need addressing in the moment.
Our research found that of the 2000 students asked 80% would choose to use a clinically validated app with self-help resources over going to a teacher. They’re turning to their phones already – 30% are going to TikTok for mental health support compared to 20% reaching out to teachers. If young people are on their phones already and clearly seeking resources that listen to them when they need it, why don’t we provide them?
By acting in the moment and providing always-on support, mental health symptoms can be managed before they deteriorate, which results in poorer wellbeing, increased absence, reduced academic attainment, and a bigger strain on services. Too often teachers make a referral, only for the wait to be many weeks or even months before treatment starts. Digital tools can speed up the process of triage, so that the vital support begins earlier, addressing issues before they escalate. Digital is fast – as mental health waits for no one.
Apps aren’t just for students. We need to support teachers. Staff in CAMHS services at Northamptonshire Healthcare NHS Foundation Trust (NHFT) and St Andrew’s Healthcare (STAH) have been using AI mental health app to support their wellbeing and mental health. The project, in collaboration with NHSEI Midlands, NHS Midlands and Lancashire Commissioning Support Unit, saw Wysa provided to 350 staff members at the hospitals.
The project aimed to assess the impact of digital wellbeing support for staff in Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services (CAMHS) wards after this was identified as one of five core areas in children and young person provisions where additional support may improve outcomes for staff and young people. The response was overwhelmingly positive. If it works on a busy ward, it’s likely to work in a busy school.
Digital makes it easier for young people to access the vital mental health support they need, when they need it. Young people shouldn’t have to wait until they are very unwell to receive treatment or support. So whether they need one-to-one therapeutic support, wellbeing resources, immediate and ongoing support and information, or on-demand exercises to help their mental health – digital tools will be with them every step of the way. If we want to raise mentally health young people, we need to be giving them the resources they need, when they need it.
Emma Taylor is the founder and clinical director of Digital Mentality and is currently the Children’s Clinical Lead of WYSA – the worlds leading AI app for mental wellbeing. She qualified as a mental health nurse in 2012 and has worked in Child and Adolescent Mental Health throughout that time. She has won several awards for her work in nursing and digital innovation. She is an experienced clinical innovator in digital services and the clinical safety officer for WYSA. She is currently leading the first NHS real-world study into the use of AI in mental health, funded by NIHR.
Wysa is a global leader in AI-driven mental health support, available both to individuals, through employer benefits programmes and healthcare services. We believe access to support should be available whenever people need it. Stigma prevails, so we take away the need for people to ask for help and eliminate the need for people to make a judgement call on when they should seek professional support. Proven to improve depression and anxiety scores by an average of 31%, Wysa’s AI-first approach enables employees to improve their mental health before symptoms become severe, by understanding an individual’s needs and guiding them through interactive cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) exercises. Wysa’s clinically safe AI encourages users to take additional support, whenever it’s needed, by guiding them towards Wysa’s human coaching, employer benefits programmes (EAP) or national crisis lines. Wysa has helped over 6 million people through 550 million AI conversations across 95 countries.