Here young people talk about their experiences of schooling, from primary to secondary schools, courses, colleges and university and if they felt depression and low moods had affected their schooling.
School work, performance pressures and exam stress
Most young people said they really enjoyed learning but for many there had been a struggle between their desire to learn and challenges presented by depression or social difficulties at school. Many had been bullied in school, struggled to “fit in” and make friends through their school years. (See ‘Bullying and depression’, ‘Childhood and life before depression’ and ‘Friends and relationships’.)
For many, depression or their low moods had had an effect on their school work. Some described being “among the top groups” in the class, “a model student” or “the clever one” but their marks had dropped drastically after being diagnosed or during depressive episodes. Some felt it was hard to focus on school work when they had “no energy”, “couldn’t function”, felt “apathetic” or had little or no motivation. As one university student said;
“For me as a university student it’s really difficult to kind of keep up with things when things are really bad. Because like sitting down and trying to focus on a written piece of work is difficult.”
Oliver wrote his Masters thesis in three days. He says theres a link between ADHD and manicness.
Performance pressures and exam stress are common for anyone but for young people with depression coping with normal levels of stress when they had other emotional issues to deal with could be difficult. Especially for those in higher education, colleges and universities, workload could be hard to manage during depressive periods and some found the exam stress made depression worse.
Sara says pressures at university can set off her low moods and make everything more stressful…
Holly used to be a mode student and top of her class. Gradually her grades started slipping and…
School performance was a major factor in how people felt about themselves. It could become a vicious cycle where people couldn’t do the work properly because they felt so low, ended up getting low marks in exams and would then feel even worse about themselves. One woman said she always blamed herself for her grades going down, though she had dyslexia and was struggling with depression: “Because of my low self-esteem I didn’t really bother about it [grades falling]. I figured ‘well I’m getting these results because I’m rubbish at it’, not because I’m not making the effort”.
A couple of people described themselves as “perfectionists” and said for them, the performance pressure or school stress was particularly hard to handle and could make depression and anxiety worse. Some felt external pressures from teachers or their family to do well and felt they were “failing” not just themselves, but others too.
Emma-Jane wanted to do well in school and now in Uni to be accepted by her teachers.
Craig says he felt like hed failed everyones expectations in school, including his own.
Jennie describes herself as a perfectionist. She has learnt to cope with stress so that it…
Some people struggled with school work because they had learning difficulties, dyslexia or ADHD which hadn’t been recognised until much later. A few people said they “got in trouble” because of learning difficulties. They were accused of “messing about” in class though they were just “bored” or couldn’t understand some of the lessons.
Lisa was keen to learn but had difficulty understanding some things. Because of dyslexia, she got…
Some ended up re-sitting their year or re-enrolling on their university course.
Gemma decided to re-start her last year and all the teachers were very supportive of her decision.
Ruby’s was life was chaos when she was meant to do her dissertation at university. She re-enrolled a year later and had great support and understanding from her teacher to finish her studies.
A few people found the prospect of future studies daunting and stressful because they didn’t feel optimistic about their future at the best of times. A couple of people said they tended to worry about everything and run through worst case scenarios in their minds of what could go wrong at college or university. For some, having to make choices early on in school about their study and career paths was overwhelming.
Suzanna was worried about getting into university. The university had a flexible system whereby…
There was a lot of pressure and heavy work load in Tasha’s grammar school. She felt making GCSE…
Changing schools and not going to school
Many of the young people spoke with had missed out large chunks of school. For a few, this was because of extended hospital stays or feeling unwell but for most, not going to school was their way of getting away from social pressures, work stress and bullying. Some said they went to school but just didn’t do anything there. A few people found being in school so intolerable that they decided to change schools. For some this worked, and they felt better able to fit in and do their work whereas for others the situation remained just as bad or got worse. One woman describes how changing primary schools helped her: “At my first primary school no-one wanted to work and it was a school with a bad reputation and the one I went to everyone was sort of better behaved and I fitted in better.”
Sarah found it difficult to fit in with her new Sixth Form. She was bullied for being smarter than others, started having panic attacks and missed out months.
A couple of people actually stopped going to school altogether. They later realised that not getting their GCSEs or other qualifications restricted their opportunities for work and further education. One woman left school to be home schooled instead which she found a great experience. Home schooling gave her a break from school pressures and enabled more flexibility in her work.
Lisa tells what it was like to be home schooled.
Transitions between schools could be tricky. A couple of people had been split from their friends when they moved to secondary school. Some changed to do their A-levels in a college rather than in their secondary school. For them, it was easier to fit in socially and focus on their work among students who were motivated and took their studies more seriously.
Holly moved from Sixth Form to college to do her A-levels and she loves it. She says people are…
Support from school
Young people’s experiences of support they had got from their teachers and schools varied but most of them felt unsupported and in some cases that the school made things worse. Quite a few people had counselling through school but felt it had been inadequate for anyone with more than a “bit of exam stress”. They felt that teachers generally lacked understanding of young people’s mental health problems and were unable to deal with depression or self-harm appropriately. As one woman described, “Total lack of support I received in school. There was no counselling service and a complete lack of understanding of young people’s mental health. I felt throughout my school life they didn’t care about what was going on with me; simply caring about grades and hitting targets.”
“There was nobody who seemed to have even the slightest understanding of just how bad anxiety and depression is. They just treated me like I could ‘snap out of it,’ but wasn’t trying to.”
Helena says her experiences in school made her so anxious that ‘the real world frightened me.
Going to school was horrible for Sophie. She had difficulty understanding some of the lessons…
Many were angry and frustrated by the lack of intervention by school in bullying or other social problems. A couple of people felt that even teachers were bullying them and one woman said her teachers “severely disliked” her and saw her “as a distraction”, rather than offering her support.
A few people felt well supported through school or university and said it had made all the difference for them being able to finish successfully. Flexibility around deadlines and course work enabled these people to finish their courses and achieve to their ability. Understanding about difficulties with depression and a sympathetic ear was also really important to these young people.
Suzanna’s teachers are really understanding and flexible when she’s feeling unwell or work is…
Holly tells about one of her teachers who supported her through school.
Life after school and education
Quite a few people said that while they were in school, they never realised how much more there was to life. They wished someone had told them about the all the different choices they had after school, instead of feeling pushed onto a rigid educational path. Some people said their lives had only started after school and wished they had realised earlier on the whole world outside of school waiting to be discovered: “When you’re at school, you feel like it’s the be all and end all. You don’t realise there’s a f***ing world out there with best friends that you’ve not even met yet. At school and stuff it feels like that’s gonna be forever, and it’s not. If I could tell myself anything back then, it’s just count down the days, there’s a world outside there waiting for you, away from all this crap.”