Boarding schools miss the point on the mental health crisis facing young people

Pressure on private school pupils to get top grades is leading some to self-harm, a clinical psychologist has claimed.

Tanya Byron, a clinical psychologist and broadcaster, told headteachers at the Boarding Schools’ Association conference in York this afternoon that “it’s not an exaggeration to say there’s a mental health crisis in children and young people”.

She said colleagues in London were seeing “amazing young people” who are “coming in chopping into their arms because don’t get enough A*s, but their mate does, and they are not thin enough and they are not hench enough and they haven’t got the right six pack. It’s all about perfection.”

She added: “And I would say in the independent sector you see more of that than anything else because often these kids come from families that are very aspirational.

“With respect to you all, because I understand you are businesses, you have to protect your brand and you have to get the grades, but at what cost? That’s all I’m asking you.

“What are we doing for children young people? Are they rounded? Are they resilient? I would argue no.”

When challenged by one head, she said said she “totally agreed” there was similar pressure in the state sector caused by league tables and the need to protect brands.

However, she added that the biggest group of problems that are growing are “amongst children of families that you see”, and added: “I would argue the mental health difficulties within the independent school sector is huge“.

Julie Robinson, general secretary of the Independent Schools Council, said: “I think our schools are particularly good on pastoral care and support. There is very good tutoring. Particularly in boarding, you’ve got house parents, you’ve got tutors, you’ve got layers and layers of pastoral care. And that’s one of the benefits – the wrap around care for the whole child.”

[This is the same Julie Robinson that failed to understand Boarding School Syndrome on a recent C4 News interview…]

TES

Tara Palmer-Tomkinson: a life of privilege, parties and paparazzi

She was born into great privilege, was a close family friend of Prince Charles and for a while lived a wild party lifestyle fuelled by drug abuse – not characteristics guaranteed to earn the admiration of the British public.

But Tara Palmer-Tomkinson, who has died at the age of 45, was also blessed with an intelligent, self-deprecating wit and a lively sense of fun, qualities that made her, for a time, one of the most popular minor celebrities of the late 1990s and 2000s – even if no one could quite remember what she was famous for.

In recent years, having kicked a reported £400-a-day cocaine habit after several bouts in therapy, Palmer-Tomkinson had largely sought to retreat from the public eye, vowing that she had left the party lifestyle behind for good. “I’m not the person I was,” she said last year. “I’ve gone completely the other way. I’m a very quiet person now, and I like being that person.”

After the publication of photographs of her looking frail, attracting insinuations that she had relapsed, the socialite revealed late last year that she had been suffering from a non-malignant brain tumour. Contrary to most people’s assumptions, she insisted, she had not taken drugs for a decade. But despite declaring herself more content, she had never quite found peace, she said, and continued to struggle with anxiety and self doubt.

The Guardian

Former early boarder and ‘It girl’ Tara Palmer-Tomkinson found dead

Socialite Tara Palmer-Tomkinson has been found dead aged 45.

The star, who rose to fame in the 1990s as a hard-partying “It girl”, received treatment in 2016 for a non-malignant brain tumour.

The Met Police confirmed a woman in her 40s was found dead at Palmer-Tomkinson’s flat in Bramham Gardens, South Kensington, at 13:40 GMT.

Prince Charles, a close friend of the star’s family, led tributes and said he was “deeply saddened” by her death.

BBC News (includes Woman’s Hour clip where she discusses her early boarding school experience…)

The Guardian

The Telegraph

Daily Mail

Child self-harm hospital cases up 51% in south east

Hospital admissions of children for self-harming have risen 51% in three years in south east England, according to NHS data.

The NSPCC has described the trend as “really worrying” and called for earlier support for vulnerable children.

Four-fifths of cases involve girls.

Olivia Nathan from Billingshurst, West Sussex was 13 when she started cutting herself at boarding school.

“It was a way of preventing suicidal thoughts and not feeling numb, a type of self-punishment,” she said.

“I had low self-esteem at the time, even though it had nothing to do with me.”

BBC News

Teachers have to be therapist one moment, social worker the next

A teacher recently came to me with a dilemma: there was an epidemic of self-harm among her [boarders]. They were using razors to injure themselves in their boarding school dorms, so staff had confiscated their razors.

But for self-harming teens any item can become a weapon and a means to exorcise their emotional pain. Undeterred, and ignoring the plastic bands and ice cubes their school nurse had suggested as a “safe” way to induce pain, the pupils began using the blades from pencil sharpeners, compasses or shattered rulers. One [boarder] smashed a plastic cup and ended up severing an artery using the jagged edge.

This wasn’t enough to make the other pupils stop. Camhs was overstretched in their area, and many [boarders] were not “severe enough” for an appointment. What could the school do? It resorted to reinstating the razors and providing antiseptic creams and bandages when incidents occurred on the basis that since there was nothing they could do to stop the self-harming, they needed to ensure it was happening as safely as possible. The teachers were terrified. Were they doing the right thing, she asked me? I couldn’t give her an answer.

There has been an alarming increase in self-harming [particularly in UK boarding schools] – figures from the charity Self-harm UK based on A&E attendance suggest an increase of 70% over two years to 2014. After almost a decade visiting three schools a week across the UK as a mental health educator, I have heard stories like this with alarming regularity. Teachers daily have to deal with serious mental health issues with no training, no resources, no external support and, in the state sector, no budget.

The Guardian