This week, the Office for National Statistics released their Young People’s well-being report 2017.
The proportion of young people aged 16-24 reporting symptoms of anxiety or depression increased from 18% in the period 2009 to 2010 to 21% in 2013 to 2014. In simple terms, that is one in five young people suffering anxiety or depression. Why is this?
From a young age, children’s education is driven by exam performance and most of us come to believe that the results of these exams will shape our whole future. To some extent, this is true. We are all judged on the same question paper even though we are all entirely different. Years of exams and pressure from schools can take its toll, even on the smartest students. I feel lucky to be where I am now and am glad to be released from the constant cycle of exams, however many of my friends are still in education.
I attended a high achieving school and some of my friends attained 10 or 11 A* grades, but even now they say the pressure of A-levels and attending university is ever increasing. Students need to be made aware of other options, such as apprenticeships, from an earlier age so they really do hold the key to their own futures. I wasn’t aware of apprenticeships and went to sixth form to start A-levels. When I realised this wasn’t for me, I researched my other options. It felt like a huge risk to go against what I had been consistently told was the best route, but as a young person you must realise you have a whole life ahead of you and happiness really is key.
The current E-bacc also doesn’t help as it is restricts the opportunity to study creative subjects for some. Subjects such as art and dance allow students to be creative and can be an outlet for them to express their emotions. For some it can also be an escape. As much as academic subjects are important, allowing students some flexibility could be an approach that helps them to achieve higher grades as they don’t feel as trapped. Enjoying the subjects they take, makes students happier at school which will in turn should increase concentration and productivity. I was lucky enough to take both art and design technology, which were two of my favourite subjects. Because I was taking 11 GCSEs I found it very important to have these creative subjects which I could enjoy and challenged me in a different way; it felt like a release during my school day.
After A-levels, students that decide to attend university then have to sit through multiple interviews to get themselves a place. Moving out of your home at a young age where you don’t have your parents close by to turn to and mounting up a huge sum of debt, which due to increasing interest rates are getting harder to pay off, is stressful. I support anyone that decides to go to university, but it is becoming more challenging to finance every year.
However, even if you don’t go to university, life is not much easier. Searching for a job without a degree can be difficult and the jobs that don’t require a degree often don’t pay a living wage. Yet what I struggle to understand is why certain jobs require a degree, but the degree does not have to be related to the job! How is this justifiable? Surely companies should pay more attention to young people with drive, charisma and good common sense.
Other things such as buying or renting a home, buying and insuring a car and finding enough time to relax, all add to the stress of life at a young age.
I think it is important that young people are well-informed of all the options available to them throughout their education and more support should be given throughout the early stages of life. We should always pursue our dreams and do what makes us happy even if that goes against convention. We are all individuals and we should embrace this and follow the path that suits us best. We are usually good at the things we enjoy doing and vice versa. Following other people’s expectations of what we should do, is probably never going to be very fulfilling. If young people had better clarity over the options available to them and where those pathways might take them, perhaps some of that stress and anxiety would disappear.