In December, the parents of students in a Paris school complex received an alarming email from the headmaster: “The anxiety-provoking context linked to the pandemic and the pressure of the obligation to succeed create real discomfort for some students, he wrote. Parent support (…) and the mobilization of the entire educational community is not always enough to help a student in pain, a listening service will be set up. »
→ WORDS. Covid-19: young people facing the pandemic, four testimonies
A few weeks earlier, the headteacher received a letter co-signed by the council for high school life (CVL) which illustrated this malaise: “Today I saw the top of the class say he is in hospital. The perfect boy, who plays sports, who maintains good relations with his family and friends, who works to the point of having an 18 general average (…) had to tell his classmates that he had to stop school, that he had no energy because of an eating disorder linked to school stress (…). This boy, specifies the author, is just one example of what I see in other high school students. »
Lisa, a final year student and vice-president of the CVL at Lycée Montaigne, confirms this malaise in many of her classmates. “I feel it personally but also by talking about it with other students or by listening to elected officials from other establishments, she testifies. There is a lot of stress around the new tank, whose rules keep changing. It was discovered this year that all marks count for continuous assessment when this should not be the case. You feel like you’re in an exam situation all the time, it’s stressful,” she says.
More than four in ten teenagers affected by anxiety disorders
These high school students fear in particular being penalized on Parcoursup compared to students in establishments “who grade less severely”. The orientation platform, which opens on January 20, mainly takes into account continuous monitoring and crystallizes their concerns. “We feel like we are playing our future”, summarizes Elena, also in the final year and vice-president of the CVL at the Lycée Charlemagne, in Paris. Even if you got a good mark, the next one can change everything. And good results are not always enough to be accepted in the formation of our wishes, she laments.We were already wonderingif our bin under Covid would be of value. So there is reason to be discouraged. »
→ TO ANALYSE. Is the bin still losing its value?
Students in elite high schools are not the only ones to feel strong academic pressure. “The phenomenon is generaland also affects vocational high schools, observes Ghislaine Morvan Dubois, representative of the Parents’ Association (FCPE). There are more and more reports, at the national level, of anxiety or stress, according to the students, about their future. They have the impression of navigating on sight in a school system in perpetual change since the reform of the high school and lack prospects. When registering on Parcoursup, many fear not having made the right choice of specialties for the first and final year. »
A recent Ipsos survey for Our Common Future measures the extent of the problem: more than four out of ten teenagers are affected by mild or severe anxiety disorders and 35% are anxious about going to class. Faced with this malaise, the FCPE Paris sent the heads of establishments a sheet with numbers allowing them to request emergency psychological help. She also asked for a reflection on the use by national education of the Pronote software which, according to her, is increasingthe stress of parents, students and teachers, by inviting the latter to communicate the marks as they arise.
A malaise linked to the French school system
Sophie Morlaix, university professor in social sciences, attached to the Institute for Research on Education (Iredu), also observes an anxiety but more linked to the issues of orientation. “With the new baccalaureate, young people must choose specialties almost at the end of college, in the middle of the second year. However, this choice is decisive for the rest of the studies, unlike the old series of the baccalaureate, she explains. We told the students that they could discover new specialties and have fun, but they realize that, on the contrary, a coherent choice is needed to access higher education courses. »
→ INVESTIGATION. Fear of the future, fertile ground for mental disorders in young people
Despite the uncertainties it generates, the baccalaureate reform alone cannot explain the academic pressure. The malaise is also linked to more structural aspects of the education system, according to sociologist Olivier Galland. “Several OECD surveys have shown that the climate at school is not very good in our country.. There is more rowdiness in class and students are more afraid of failing than in other countries, does he raise. At this situationAdded to this is the problem of orientation, which is often suffered, especially in the professional field. We have the feeling that in France, we try more to select the best students than to ensure that there are as few failures as possible. »
The epidemic context further exacerbates school anxiety. Elena has only one fear: that the Covid will prevent her from going to class. “If you are sick, you lose a week of lessons and you risk missing the specialty tests, scheduled for March. And, as it’s the first exam in this form, we don’t even have an annals to practice with, ” she worries.
However, the Covid is not necessarily at the heart of the conversations of high school students, according to Lisa. “We don’t talk about it more than that. We might even get the impression that we are not very concerned. Corn,behind appearances, it’s quite hard. There are students we have never seen without a mask. It’s destabilizing.” she confides.
An increase in the number of suicide attempts
Others have been more affected by this pandemic which has turned our lives upside down for two years. From March 2020, psychiatrist Xavier Pommereau, head of the day hospital for 16-25 year olds at the Béthanie clinic in Talence (Gironde), began to receive “young people who had anxiety attacks and developed two types of disorders listed by Public Health France: suicide attempts with a notion of loss of hope and the certainty that they were not going to be able to pass their exams, and eating disorders.Most striking, relieve the psychiatrist, is that they were young people who had not developed any disorders before. »
→ REPORTING. Eating disorders: at the Béthanie clinic, long-term follow-up of young adults
Since then, the hospital has been full with teenagers who come today, mainly to consult for panic attacks. “They are completely flabbergasted and unable to explain their discomfort. We can clearly see that they are anxious about the possible effects of the pandemic on them and their families, but also because of their schooling. » The psychiatrist has thusseen increase “massively” cases of school phobia in recent months in young people with no history,many of which “take refuge in their room with their laptop to get drunk on videos or messages and forget their anxiety”.
Affected by the pandemic and school stress, many teenagers also suffer from eco-anxiety, that is, caused by climate change, even if they are “less pessimistic than adults”, according to Xavier Pommereau. Added to this uncertain context is the pressure of social networks, with the risk of cyberbullying and the consumption of pornography, which has increased with isolation. Young people are also increasingly challenged and sometimes jostled by the gender issues that run through society.
→ MAINTENANCE. “Girls leave the world of childhood too quickly”
Faced with ill-being, parents may feel helpless. If a medical consultation sometimes proves to be essential, the psychiatrist Xavier Pommereau reminds us that we must help adolescents to project themselves into “a possible future“. “Let’s encourage them to develop skills in areas that appeal to them, without denigrating their tastes and by instilling in them a sense of effort, he advises. At this age, it is also important to set them a framework that reassures them,while leaving them spaces of freedom essential to their development. »
The mental health of young people is deteriorating
According to data from Public Health France, obtained by the newspaper Release, emergency room admissions for suicidal acts increased by more than 40% among young girls under the age of 15 and by 22% among those aged 15 to 29, between January and October 2021, compared to the same period during of the previous three years. The data remain, however, stable for boys under 15 and almost stable (+1%) for 15-29 year olds.
According to an Ipsos survey for Our Common Future:
43% of teenagers are affected by anxiety disorders.
One in five had dark thoughts and one in ten have thought about killing themselves.
42% are affected by depressive symptoms more or less serious.
35% are anxious about going to class and 64% are very anxious when they have questions or receive grades.
“We are supposed to live the best years of our lives”
Colin Champion, in high school, elected to the CVL of Louis-Pergaud high school, in Besançon, and president of the La voix lycéenne union
“I am part of a generation whose education has been disrupted for two years by the health crisis. Paradoxically, I do not have the impression that the government takes this into account. The part of the oral is now strong in the baccalaureate, while we all wear masks. And the selection is very strong on Parcoursup, while the courses cannot always take place in good conditions. I see comrades who have anxiety attacks, who no longer go to class regularly because there is a very heavy workload. I, too, feel the effects of stress on my concentration.
In addition to school anxiety, there is the fear of being contaminated by the virus and of infecting one’s family, the restrictions which complicate meetings with friends and cultural outings. We are meant to live the best years of our lives. But they are wasted. »