Calls for more mental health support for Highland youth have been made as pupils return to school after the Christmas holidays.
A young activist from Skye told the Free press disturbing experiences he witnessed among his contemporaries during two years of the pandemic.
And the calls were echoed by the Highland Council chairman of education, who urged the UK and Scottish governments to make student welfare a priority in the coming year.
The comments from Skye adviser John Finlayson came after a record number of more than 20,000 Covid-19 cases recorded across Scotland just days before schools returned to the region.
The board’s education chair said the Highland Council is committed to getting young people back to school and believes there should be great pressure for 12-15 year olds to receive Covid-19 vaccines .
Expanding on the issue of the impact of the coronavirus on education, the former school principal said he believed the pandemic had severely affected the social and mental well-being of young people.
“There is no argument against this pandemic having an impact on the education of young people,” Councilor Finlayson told the Free press.
“We have lived through two years that are completely different from any education period we have ever seen.
“While the impact on the academic side of things has been a real concern, the other side effects related to mental health and well-being, socialization, relationship development and maintenance are also crucial.
“The curriculum in its broadest sense is everything that happens in a school. Much of what we learn in terms of socialization and relationships does not happen in a classroom but through all of the other daily activities and interactions that take place.
“It’s a huge problem. Our young people have lost a lot in terms of formal education, but for me they have also lost a lot in terms of other areas of development that their education brings.
Portree High School student Luke Eveling, who has published a book on adolescent mental health issues on Skye, believes the pandemic has taken its toll on his age group.
He said: “The lockdown and the pandemic more broadly have certainly had an effect on young people in school. Many of my friends are struggling to cope with the exams and the pandemic more broadly at the same time. It influenced the way they do in school.
“I have a few friends who have turned to drug addiction to deal with the combined pressure, and others have stopped going to school altogether.”
In April 2021, Luke courageously shared his own challenges through his book “A Series of Essays on Mental Health”.
In the book, Luke, who lives in Broadford, wrote candidly about a wide range of issues, including grief, peer pressure, drug addiction and suicide.
Talk to Free press at the time, Luke spoke of being diagnosed with Asperger and facing isolation during the pandemic.
While last year Luke spoke warmly of the “overwhelming support” he had received from family, friends and the wider community after opening up about his own situation, he believed more service support should be made available to help other young people.
He added: “There are, but there just isn’t enough for everyone. Things like having a school counselor sounds great, but just doesn’t seem to reach everyone who needs help.
Councilor Finlayson added: “We know the importance of mental health – people are nervous about the pandemic and haven’t been able to socialize like before. We already have and will continue to have a situation where some young people will have a real hard time finding their peers and maintaining positive relationships.
“Parents are rightly worried. Their children find themselves in a totally unique situation given the global scale of the pandemic and the impact it has had and will continue to have on the way education is delivered.
“Supporting all aspects of education in its broadest form must be a priority for all levels of government, from UK government to Scottish government to local government.
“We all need to realize that young people who have been to school over the past two years have been disadvantaged in different ways.
“We need to take this development into account in terms of additional resources and possibly a catch-up and perhaps even more importantly, support for all aspects of the health and well-being of young people, including health. mental. “
Assessing the lay of the land in schools in the area, Councilor Finlayson said: ‘Within Highland we will continue to follow the rules and mitigation measures that were in place before and came from the Scottish Government – all of these things. ; masks in classrooms, social distancing, ventilation in classrooms, limiting contact with other classes and classes as much as possible will continue. What the rest of the country will have to do.
“Better ventilation is encouraged in schools – but we have to take into account the time of year and that some of the Highland Council schools are quite run down and not in great condition.
“I want schools to make decisions that suit their own circumstances – because every school is different.”
Article by Adam Gordon, image by Willie Urquhart.