Stress is not a sustainable way of living

You may have heard them on the radio recently or in the news, we caught up with the founders of Bang The Desk campaign to find out what it’s all about.

“Bang the Desk is a grassroots campaign designed to change the curriculum and drastically reform the way we educate our young people. In my opinion there is far too much pressure on our children and young people to be at the top of their game before they have even had time to learn the rules.  There are thousands of studies, articles, research papers and more that show just how damaging stress is to young people. Therefore, the question I am asking is this: 

If we can statistically prove that young people are so affected by stress that they are at permanent breaking point, and sadly for many tipping point, why are we doing nothing to help?

I feel that the time has come to hold our government to account. To hold our Secretary of Education to account. Enough is enough, it’s time to bang the desk and change the curriculum. Less pressure, less stress, more time to be young, more time to enjoy life and more time to experience the magic of learning. 

We are desperately trying to fix our adults, but paying little attention to the fact that most adults have been steadily nurturing this level of stress from a young age.

Stress is one of the single biggest threats we face today and we need to do something about it now. We need to start from the ground up, and ensure that our young people don’t just grow up to work, be stressed and die. That they grow up to be creative, inspiring and free thinking.  There needs to be more emphasis on wellbeing, more time for creativity, more time for nurture. Of course we must learn the essentials, we must learn English, Maths, Science etc. But do we have to learn it under such intense pressure? 

Education and learning should be magical, it should be exciting, it should be inspiring. But we are applying a never ending mountain of pressure on young people to learn it better, learn it faster. 

Wouldn’t we rather a young person told us of their excitement to read a story, to practice a science experiment, to have a go at painting, than have them tell us they can’t do it, they don’t want to try, everyone else is better, and what’s the point?

What pushed me to create the Bang The Desk campaign?

I’m 27 years old and I recently suffered a nervous break down whilst studying for my MA, which culminated in a suicide attempt. There were a number of reasons for this but the main reason was the suffocating pressure to succeed, to be as good or better than everyone else. I was literally working around the clock to meet this ridiculous standard that is imposed on us, to meet impending deadlines I wasn’t ready for and I couldn’t take it any more. 

The stress of everything that happened caused me to lose the ability to speak. It’s like I just woke up one day and my brain forgot how to talk. I’m told this is a stress reaction and it will subside once my stress levels go down, but for now I can now stammer words out, but it’s a struggle. 

My breakdown is actually just a small example, just the catalyst that pushed me to fight for the change. As I looked around I found that almost everyone I know suffers from anxiety, stressor other mental health concerns. In the UK, suicide is the leading cause of death among young people aged 20-34, and this number spikes around exam season. In Englands and Wales, 96 people under the age of 25 take their own lives every year in April and May, with on average 88 doing so in September when new students start university.

Since I started Bang The Desk I have had so many messages from people saying that they struggled with depression, anxiety and stress in school, that they couldn't cope with the every day pressure to do well, and that they have carried these worries over into adulthood.

Learning should be be magical not traumatic. We should be nurturing young minds not destroying them, so I started ‘Bang The Desk. Change the Curriculum.'  

Bang the Desk is petitioning the government to make the following changes to the UK education system:

 

1.       Remove formal testing for anyone under the age of 18. Informal, stress free assessments in class are a more than satisfactory method for establishing how well a student is performing. 

Testing at a young age only proves that a rare few flourish under pressure whilst the majority do not. Some of the most intelligent people I know cannot cope with the pressure of a formal test and inevitably fail. 

Pressurised testing only proves that some have a good memory and can retain information under stress, whereas informal in class testing quietly shows those who are learning well and calmly highlights those that need a little more help. 

Informal testing will remove stress, stop young people battling with self-esteem and worries of failure, it will just allow everyone to learn and enjoy it. We are not training MI5 agents, we are educating young minds. Young minds that are are fragile and need nurture not destruction.

2. Increase funding for the arts. 

Humans by their very nature are creative. We have painted on cave walls, sat and told stories around camp fires, built structures and sculptures, sung songs, composed music, choreographed dances and more since the world began. So why are we so determined to stamp out everything that defines us as human? We need creativity to survive, without creativity we wouldn’t have any innovation, any free thinking. There’s a reason people who struggle with mental health are offered art therapy, drama therapy, music therapy. It helps us recover. So if it helps us recover from trauma, why wouldn’t we put it in place from the start? 

3. Introduce an hour of wellbeing into the curriculum every day

We need time to slow down. Our pressure gauge is at bursting point and we must slow down. Children need time to be children, teens need time to be teens and young adults need time to be young. We can statistically prove that stress is killing young people, so we need to sit up and listen. Bang The Desk is asking for one hour a day for young people to learn something stress free and different.

The well-being hour should be a structured hour focusing on something that nurtures mental health i.e. nature walks, painting, film making, photography, gardening, mindfulness, reading, music, dance, sport. Anything that does not garner stress. 

Teachers don’t need to break a sweat about having to be intensely skilled in every single wellbeing subject, the idea is that no one is tested, no one is pressured. It’s just one hour a day for everyone to relax, and enjoy trying something different. It’s not about reaching a high grade, it’s not about being the best, it’s about peacefully expanding young minds in a relaxed environment. 

 Not every young person is academic and nor should they be made to feel they have to be. Not every academic young person can cope with the pressure to remain at the top. We need wellbeing in schools to level everyone out, give everyone a chance to breathe and just enjoy being alive. No one can retain 6 hours of information a day, but we might retain information better and learn more efficiently if we are relaxed. 

4. Start and end every school day with 10 minutes of mindfulness

Each school day should start and end with 10 minutes of being peaceful. This is not a ‘hippy radical’ notion that wastes people’s time. The benefits of meditation and deep breathing on mental health can be proven beyond all reasonable doubt. Meditation and deep breathing has been proven to:

 

•          Control anxiety and stress

•          Increase concentration

•          Increase emotional health

•          Control anger issues

•          Help improve depression

•          Stimulate creativity

•          Help improve conditions such as anorexia, panic attacks, low self-esteem

•          Increase happiness

•          Encourage kindness 

 

Mindfulness and meditation are becoming increasingly popular methods of coping for adults, so why are we not introducing it to our young people?

https://www.willwilliamsmeditation.co.uk- Will Williams explains the benefits of meditation extremely well. 

 

5. Greater mental health support across all educational institutions.

Young people are not coping with the stress we are forcing on them, this is an irrefutable fact. Every young person should be made to speak to a trained counsellor once a month; more if they require it. Talking helps. We spend so much time hushing people up that a lot of people are too afraid to speak out. Particularly boys. 

By enforcing at least one counselling session a month for young people, we are opening them up to the idea that it’s okay to not be okay, and it’s okay to ask for help. 

This mental health support should not be exclusive to primary and secondary school, it should be mandatory at university level as well.  

6. Better wages and support for teachers.

Teaching seems to have developed a bad stigma, which needs to be removed immediately. Teachers are the ones who are responsible for educating and nurturing our children, they are the ones that build dreams and inspire ideas and they deserve to be paid well for it. Good, dedicated teachers are worth their weight in gold, and they should be treated accordingly. 

Teachers should not be afraid to enter a classroom, scared to face the stress of out of control students. If the points above are implemented I firmly believe we will see a radical change in the behaviour and attitudes of young people. However, these things do take time and teachers should be given mandatory counselling once a month, and more if required. 

We are talking about the mental health of our future generation and we need to take these small steps to ensuring no more young people feel pushed to breaking point and that no more young people commit suicide as a result of stress.

 These changes could also see a reduction in bullying, and a happier safer environment for all young people to learn in.”

www.bangthedesk.com

Sign The petition by clicking here

InterviewsHope Marshall