The chief executive of one of Tunbridge Wells’ oldest mental health charities has called for further action to tackle the endemic levels of stress experienced by school pupils.
Chris Munday, of Crossways Community, said he fully supported Julie Tricks, the head of Combe Bank School, who had warned in the Times that children were been overwhelmed by exams and pressure from parents.
Mr Munday said Tunbridge Wells was a ‘victim of its own success’, with the top quality schools and grammar system pressurising children and parents into believing academic attainment was all that mattered.
He said: “I have no problem with grammar schools, as a product of the system myself and someone who sent his own children to grammars, I believe they do a great job.
“But when you compare an area like this to places with only comprehensive systems, you can see how highly competitive this town is and the high expectations people rightly have.
“Kent does live in a bit of an educational bubble compared to other areas. In Tunbridge Wells there is a choice between good schools and even better schools and so standards are very high.”
This could be a double-edged sword, Mr Munday believes, as some parents may not recognise how hard they push their children, while others may believe they have no choice.
Thus pupils themselves can have unrealistic expectations of themselves.
He added: “Teenagers create their own pressure in addition to schools themselves being high-pressure environments.
“They are also unlikely to admit they have problems or be too afraid to come forward due to the stigma attached to mental health.
“For a teenager to admit they are actually depressed takes a lot of courage.”
But Mr Munday believes schools in the town are starting to notice and be more proactive in spotting and tackling the causes of mental health problems among pupils.
The Christian mental health charity he heads, which supports young people and adults in the town and surrounding area, is so worried about the mental well-being of adolescents, it offers free mental health awareness training in local schools.
These are tailored to the age group, and delivered during the personal, health, social and economic curriculum.
They usually focus on beating exam stress and teaching children to spot signs of mental ill health in themselves and their friends.
Schools currently using the charity’s services include Bennett Memorial Diocesan and Tunbridge Wells Girls’ Grammar.
Mr Munday said: “Fortunately, more and more schools in and around Tunbridge Wells are recognising the need for action and asking us to run mental health awareness sessions for their pupils.
“Of course, we must teach our children to be resilient.”
“But young people should understand that mental illnesses, such as depression, body anxiety or exam-related stress, are relatively common and nothing to be afraid or ashamed of.
“Then they are more likely to recognise signs and symptoms in themselves or others and ask for support.”
For more information on Crossways’ services, visit www.crosswayscommunity.co.uk or call 01892 529321