Schools are near breaking point as Covid-19 takes its toll on the emotional wellbeing of young people, teachers have warned.

Nearly one in four staff who participated in a recent study told researchers they had witnessed at least one of their students showing suicidal and self-harm behaviours.

Data also reveals around a quarter of individuals in a virtual class of 22 were experiencing mental health difficulties as a consequence of the pandemic – an increase of 20 per cent in just 10 months.

Despite soaring need, fears are growing that too many individuals who require support will struggle to get it because of issues such as closed waiting lists and pandemic-related capacity constraints.

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The figures have been gathered by researchers at Stem4, a youth mental health charity.

One respondent at a Scottish primary school told them: “The Government has failed children with mental health issues.

“Teachers have been left with the additional task of treating mental health issues for children in schools. We have no training for this, no additional time given and no money.”

Twenty-four per cent of surveyed teachers in Scotland said at least one of their students had shown suicidal and self-harm behaviours, while nearly seven in 10 (68%) warned that they had seen pupils suffer anxiety.

A further four in 10 (41%) witnessed a student with depression.

Teachers now predict that the longstanding mental health crisis will bring schools and colleges to breaking point as young people buckle under the effects of the pandemic.

HeraldScotland: Most pupils are currently learning remotely.Most pupils are currently learning remotely.

Dr Nihara Krause, consultant clinical psychologist and founder of Stem4, said the study – based on a Scottish sample of 81 – was hugely concerning.

“Prior to the pandemic, research showed that 10% of children and young people aged five to 16 in Scotland had a diagnosable mental health problem, around three in every class,” she explained.

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“This survey suggests that this official figure under-represents the reality of what is happening.”

Dr Krause, who also created the Calm Harm and Clear Fear apps, added: “Teachers are desperate to help, yet the necessary early interventions and specialist services are not in place to minimise their negative effect.”

Her concerns have been echoed by union leaders north of the Border.

Larry Flanagan, general secretary at the EIS, said: “Teachers will not be surprised by this research which highlights the very real pressures and anxieties which Covid-19 has created for many young people.

“The EIS has consistently argued that the immediate focus of schools should be supporting the wellbeing of pupils, as a prerequisite to supporting their learning.”

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He added: “In order to prevent the current challenges having longer term consequences for young people, there requires to be a massive investment in support services and intervention strategies – well beyond the current provision, which is woefully inadequate.”

A Scottish Government spokesman said: “We are determined to strengthen the support available, including investing in access to a counsellor in every secondary school and developing new mental health learning resources for staff.

“More than £15 million is being distributed to local authorities to support the mental wellbeing of five to 24-year-olds.

“Of this, £11.25m is for services in response to the pandemic and the remaining £3.75m will fund new and enhanced community mental health and wellbeing services. We expect all new supports to be in place by the end of March.

“We will be providing a further £15m in April, assuming services are fully in place.

“In September, the Education Secretary announced £1.5m to support school staff as part of the our wider Covid-19 education recovery response. This is being delivered by Education Scotland, GTCS, Place2Be, Barnardo’s Scotland and Columba 1400, enabling vital support to reach school leaders, teachers and staff.”