Broken students, Broken system



“There are times in everyone’s life where difficult or challenging situations arise. When you’ve accessed that deeper dimension within these times appear only as a ripple or wave on the surface of the ocean, underneath there is always stillness and a deep sense of peace. The more you practice the SEJ the more you’re aware of this truth.”


Jacqueline Mary Phillips


Loss of young lives.


I wrote in an earlier blog that “… Sir Anthony Seldon, vice-chancellor of the University of Buckingham and a campaigner on student well-being, said: "Student suicide rates and emotional distress levels could be reduced at university if we acted differently.”


Today I received some devastating news of the loss of a young person I knew, who graduated not long ago. They had struggled with mental health challenge throughout their course of the study. But they are not an exception. More and more we hear of young lives cut short. Only a few weeks ago we heard of another tragic death at a well-known university.


In Japan where I come from, since 2014, suicide has become Japan’s leading cause of death in children aged 10-19 and the rate of child suicide keeps rising despite the decreasing overall suicide rate. The main reasons for child suicide are school-related issues such as demanding school work or bullying.


What about in the UK?


This worrying story is not just in Japan but also in the UK, According to the Office of National Statistics, suicide is the most common cause of death for boys aged between 5 and 19, and the second most common for girls of that age.

A Guardian newspaper article commented, “…Suicides among children and young adults peak at the beginning of exam season, it has emerged, and adding to fears that pressure to get good results is harming their mental health. Exams are sometimes the final straw that lead to someone under 25 taking their own life, according to a major inquiry. While experts pointed out that the causes of suicide are always complex, they said academic problems could play a significant role...”


I am aware that the UK government has published a green paper in December 2017 to tackle the Mental Health challenges facing children and young people. In a recent NUT survey found that 84% of teachers agreed that ‘the focus on academic targets means that social and emotional aspects of education tended to be neglected’. These are all well and good intentions but that alone will not save lives.

In Japan the child suicide due to exam stress and bullying has been a big issue for many years if not decades. The Japanese government is trying to implement strategies aiming to increase discussion about mental health issues in the county as is in the UK.


BUT it is not just up to the government to make changes. With every comment we make to these young people such as ‘Oh why didn’t you study harder you should have got an A*’ ‘if you don’t get an A* you won’t get any decent jobs’ ‘you are not trying hard enough.’ etc etc…


It is our responsibility and duty to look after these young people whatever the age whatever the circumstances. When my children were taking their GCSEs and especially at A ‘levels I applied the SEJ because I did not want to put on any of my beliefs onto what’s already in them. I have also applied the SEJ when I hear students saying they feel stressed or anxious about their academic performance. Why?  Because it is my responsibility to look at myself that I am not adding any more stress onto them by making limiting comments. They need to be supported and nurtured throughout their lives no matter what we may want them to be. Their wellbeing and happiness MUST be our priority not straight A* exam results.


If you do not wish the UK to experience the same heartache facing many Japanese parents who have lost their children due to suicide from academic pressures we MUST address this imbalance of academic pressure vs the wellbeing of children and young people. We as educators have a moral and social responsibility to make this happen as a matter of urgency. I am a passionate advocate of the SEJ because I know it can and will support the educators and the young people to make changes in their lives so these statistics will become a thing of the past. I hope you can join me and the SEF to implement these changes, NOW.


Dr M Howard-Kishi

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