We’re not mentally ill – we’re teenagers
A 14-year-old girl tells teachers to stop pathologising pupils.
It has recently been claimed that the number of girls in the UK aged 11 to 13 who are suffering from emotional problems increased by 55 per cent between 2009 and 2014.
Some might think that this problem stems from a lack of support for kids at school, or from the ‘fact’ that young girls’ lives are becoming more difficult. But is this the case? I for one have to disagree. I am a 14-year-old pupil at secondary school, and can tell you that there is definitely no lack of ‘help’ for girls. In fact, if anything, there’s too much of it.
Almost everyone in my group of friends has been labelled as having some sort of ‘problem’ since starting secondary school, and has been told by teachers that they need some sort of special help.
One of my friends – let’s just call her Lucy – has been taken out of school completely. It started with her being taken out of class to have talks about her ‘serious anxiety issues’ (she didn’t like doing public speaking and was generally a shy person). Then she was ‘diagnosed’ with chronic depression and she hasn’t attended school for at least three months. She now only comes in for three periods a week, and she gets to pick which ones she attends (you guessed it, she usually skips maths).
Another one of my friends – let’s call her Alex – has been taken out of class frequently since Year 1 to talk about her ‘personal problems’. Her teachers have often told her and her family that they should go to see a specialist, but her mother (a social worker) has refused (rightly, in my opinion), claiming that her daughter doesn’t need any emotional help. She has also asked the school to stop making Alex talk about personal topics. Despite this, teachers continue to encourage Alex to talk about her personal and emotional life.
While the ‘wellbeing’ professionals at our school are telling us that we have serious personal problems, in the past I imagine teachers would have told us that it was basic teenage worry.
Another friend of mine is now taking depression pills after being sent to the doctor by her father – she’s still upset about a death in her family in her younger years. She will soon be seeing a shrink. I can’t directly blame the school for this, but I do think it has helped to create an environment in which young girls, in particular, are encouraged to think of themselves as having emotional and mental problems. Often it feels like, after having their pretty normal teenage worries and concerns labelled as serious anxieties, my friends eventually come to think of themselves as being emotionally broken.
This is not my friends’ fault. Nor is it the fault of their parents and the environment they have at home. The professionals in our schools are to blame – they are claiming to be solving problems, when really they are creating them.
Jean Godson is the pseudonym of a UK secondary school pupil.