‘Clear plan’ needed to tackle mental health of pupils not returning to school today

With children aged three to seven returning to to school today, calls are growing for a plan to help teenagers who are still at home with their mental health.

Ffion Griffith, a Year 13 pupil at Ysgol Gyfun Cwm Rhymni and Member of the Welsh Youth Parliament, said it can be difficult to stay engaged with activities she usually relies on to retain her mental health well.

“It can be difficult to be motivated during this time and this is something I’ve really found amongst young people,” she said.

“It’s difficult to feel like you’re ever looking forward to anything. It’s difficult to reach out to your friends or to engage yourself with different things.”

Ffion made the comments as part of a CJS News Facebook Live event which brought together a panel of guests to discuss the impact of the ongoing school closures on the mental health of young people and teenagers.

Our guests included:

  • Natasha Devon MBE, mental health activist, writer and presenter.
  • Ffion Griffith, Member of the Welsh Youth Parliament
  • John Griffiths, Member of the Senedd

You can watch the full video here.

Ffion said that there needs to be a plan set out for secondary school pupils:  “Particularly for our mental health because we rely not only on the academic side of school, but to see our friends, to better our mental health and gain the support we need face to face from teachers.

“There’s a big difference between simply emailing someone and seeing them face to face.”

We need to paint a picture for young people of what the plan is for the new normal and what their futures might look like

Natasha Devon MBE

Writer and campaigner Natasha Devon thinks it’s more important than ever to give young people a sense of hope by showing them that they do have a future.

“The pandemic has increased unemployment; it made the future so much less certain,” she said.

“What will universities and apprenticeships look like? Taking away that certainty is going to affect anxiety levels.

“We need to paint a picture for young people of what the plan is for the new normal and what their futures might look like,” she said.

When asked about the Welsh Government’s approach to pupils going back to school John Griffiths, MS for Newport East, said: “There has to be a focus on getting our young people back to school as soon as we safely can but also make sure that any support they need while they’re there is in place.”

However, he said that it isn’t necessarily the best option to set firm dates for when this will happen.

“It’s difficult to give timetables because of the unpredictable nature of Covid-19. It’s worse really to set a timetable and then you find can’t adhere to it and dash people’s expectations, than to precede cautiously.”

On Friday, First Minister Mark Drakeford said that if Covid-19 cases continue to fall in Wales, older children should be able to return to school in a phased approach. This will be decided during the next lockdown review in Wales, due on 11 March.  

Earlier this month, the Welsh Government also announced an additional £9.4 million worth of funding towards improving mental health services for children and young people.