More than half of all secondary-school students believe that, unless they achieve good grades at school, they will be branded failures.

And almost as many believe that their schools care more about grades than they do about students themselves, according to a new survey of 2,000 young people.

The charity YoungMinds, which campaigns to improve the mental health of young people, polled 2,000 people between the ages of 11 and 25.

Asked who they would talk to if they were feeling stressed or worried, only one in five of the respondents said that they would approach a teacher or a school counsellor.

And a third of those surveyed said that they would not talk to anyone at all. For those teenagers between the ages of 15 and 17, this figure rose to two-fifths.

While 48.9 per cent of those surveyed felt that the grades they achieved – or failed to achieve – were more important to their schools than they were, many also believed that there was no-one for them to turn to with these concerns.

Lucie Russell, YoungMinds’ director of campaigns and media, said: “Young people experience a continuous onslaught of stress at school – bullying, sexual pressures and bleak employment prospects. When this becomes too much for them, they don’t know where to turn for help. We are sitting on a mental health time bomb.”

The charity is launching a new campaign, YoungMinds Vs, which aims to secure emotional support for teenagers. This campaign calls for discussion of emotional health to become an integral part of the school curriculum.

In particular, it wants schools to provide greater support, – including access to counselling services – for stressed or depressed teenagers. And it would like personal, social and health education lessons to be given increased prominence in the timetable, and to be taught by specialist teachers.

Mental-health support group Samaritans has echoed these recommendations. This week, the organisation said that it wants to see teachers talk to students about how to cope with stress, and how to go about seeking help for it.

“We would like to see more in the national curriculum around the issues to do with emotional health,” a spokesman said.

The YoungMinds survey revealed that half of its respondents had been bullied. And four out of 10 interviewees, including those as young as 11, were so worried about being thin that they had skipped meals.

Efforts to achieve an unrealistic body size were possibly fuelled by images viewed online. Half of those surveyed said that they had viewed internet pornography (including 10 per cent who said they had done so “by accident”).

A third of those surveyed added that viewing online porn had affected their relationships with other people their age.

Questions for debate and discussion

1. According to the survey, young people feel anxious and under pressure to succeed at school. Are you surprised by the findings? Why/why not?

2. Do you think more time should be dedicated to mental health awareness in school? Explain your answer.

3. Are there other strategies that schools could take to support young people with depression and anxiety?

4. Discuss whether you think the internet is responsible for promoting unhealthy obsessions with body image.

Relevant resources

Young person’s guide to anxiety

  • A guide from TES Connect partner Anxiety UK to help young people understand anxiety and how to cope with it.

Mindfulness in schools

  • A video from TES Connect partner YoungMinds in Schools looking at a group of schools in Tottenham who are using mindfulness to support children’s emotional wellbeing.

Whole school emotional wellbeing

  • This video from TES Connect partner YoungMinds in Schools looks at what primary and secondary schools in Tottenham are doing to support whole school emotional wellbeing.

Mental health: Depression and anxiety

  • Use this as part of an introduction to mental health issues, with advice on how a positive attitude can help.