An extra blog post this week for a very good cause and on a subject close to my heart which I feel needs to be brought to everyone’s attention. When Sarah at ‘Talk To Us’ accepted my piece on school refusal, I was delighted to be involved in promoting this new initiative.
Today, RELATE are launching a video, (see link below) together with brand new survey findings, to promote the fact that more young people than ever are experiencing mental health problems. The charity wants to raise awareness that they offer counselling to young people and encourage them and their parents, carers and those who work with them to 'Talk To Us.'
The new issues that young people have been bringing up in the counselling room are:
- Being depressed / suffering with mental health conditions (64%)
- An increase in family break-up (41%)
- Parents having mental health conditions (23%)
- Pressures of social media (21%)
Here's my son's story:
Counselling and endless talking was the only solution when my son moved from primary to secondary school, six years ago.
A boy who had previously enjoyed school, he suddenly developed ‘school refusal’ (AKA ‘school phobia’). Within a fortnight he was quite simply unable to get himself through the classroom door and would cry every morning with stomach pains, headaches or other inexplicable symptoms.
Peoples’ initial responses would always be "Well, surely it’s just naughtiness and he’s trying it on? Why can’t you just put your foot down and make him get on with it?"
The answer is very simple. School phobia isn’t petulance. It's crippling and very real, like only those who have suffered panic attacks can tell you.
As any parent who has ever dealt with this condition knows, when it first hits you have absolutely no idea what you're dealing with. In fact, you think the very things that others have asked. Is he playing up? Am I being too lenient? And in the beginning you try everything - punishment, bribes, coaxing, shouting, crying - you name it, you give it a go. Then come the darker thoughts ... is he being bullied? Or even abused?
Once he was properly diagnosed, it was a question of baby steps - with me constantly in the background. First to enter the form room, next an hour of a lesson, a half day, a full day etc. This took the best part of three years and I was fortunate enough to be in a position where I could be there to support him (mainly in the car park - through all weather!). My heart goes out to those kids who never conquer the fear and, indeed, never return to school.
There isn’t enough talk about school phobia and certainly not the sort of support students get in Japan, which has the highest incidence of this condition in the world. We had to pay for a child psychologist but were lucky enough to have a fantastic counsellor on site at his school. The teachers were also incredibly supportive and I couldn’t fault the school's pastoral care.
My son conquered his fear and looks back on it now as if it happened to a stranger. He’s just started his A levels at the same school and has never been happier. Unfortunately, it’s not such a happy ending for many children and I hope that, by raising awareness, Relate can go on to help change those children’s lives.
Advice for Parents - 'Worried about your Child?'
Advice for Young People - 'Think you need some Advice?'
Amanda Egan is the author of two novels - Diary of a Mummy Misfit was written in the car in the school car-park as she nursed her son through school phobia. The Darker Side of Mummy Misfit was written in the comfort of her home once her son rediscovered his confidence and was able fly solo.
On Amazon for Kindle and in paperback at Lulu.