Mental health of children and adolescents

Why schools must think of education and well-being as inseparable

Julian Schmitz is implementing a new research project at Leipzig University, the "Education and Mental Health Monitor (BiPsy-Monitor)," which aims to better map the care situation of children and young people with psychosocial problems. In this interview, he explains why this is urgently needed.

Britta Klar
Vera Loitzsch
January 12, 2024

How do you see the current psychosocial stress situation among children and young people?

Julian Schmitz: The pandemic was clearly a life-changing crisis that affected all children, young people and families. And that is important for understanding the current situation of children and adolescents – including in schools. It was a stressful time that also left many gaps in children's developmental paths. Not just at school. The social networks formed by young people of this age were also interrupted or hindered. And when we all emerged from this pandemic, the motto was: "Catching up after Covid," so there was no break – even though everyone was actually exhausted. But we don't actually know exactly how children and young people are doing, this was also revealed by the latest survey of the Robert Bosch Stiftung's School Barometer. We lack a good data basis for this, a representative and regular monitoring.

About the person

Julian Schmitz

Julian Schmitz is a trained child and adolescent psychotherapist, Professor of Clinical Child and Adolescent Psychology at Leipzig University and heads the Psychotherapeutic University Outpatient Clinic for Children and Adolescents, affiliated with the institute.

This is the case even though we know that care available to those affected by mental illness is lacking.

Unfortunately, it must be said that the care situation has been lacking for a very long time. And of course, the poor care situation has deteriorated even further due to the COVID-19 pandemic and other crises. Especially in rural areas. There were also no reserves or buffers in this system. Those who used to wait a long time for help, for an appointment with a school psychologist or for a place in therapy, now have to wait even longer. Unfortunately, the issues children and young people face do not play a big role in our society. This is a major problem from an overall perspective, as we know very clearly from research studies that most mental illnesses begin in childhood and adolescence all the way up to early adulthood and then continue throughout life.


Mental illness in children and young people is often dismissed as a phase, as typical problems of puberty...

...yes, and the narrative often goes like this: It wasn't easy in the past and it wasn't a problem then either. This suggests children used to grow up mentally healthy and that although there were stresses and strains, these stresses didn't actually cause any major problems. Or in other words, people didn't care and that was okay. But if we now look at this particular group of adults in our society, we have incredibly high numbers of people who are not only mentally ill, but who are also taking psychopharmaceuticals. And that tells us a lot about the past – and that everything was not in order.

How can we as a society do better for the future?

I believe we need to think much more systemically. If we consider mental health and well-being, this means that we have to shape the way children and young people grow up and their living conditions – including at school – so that they have the opportunity to grow up in a mentally healthy way. We need staff for this. Teachers in schools and daycare centers play at least as central a role as therapists, because they help children and young people grow up in a mentally healthy way. Many hours a day. And this applies in particular to children who do not have a resource-rich home. They are dependent on their environment for help.

The BiPsy Monitor is based on data from the German School Barometer.

The German School Barometer has shown that teachers are increasingly noticing behavioral problems such as anxiety, trouble concentrating and restlessness among pupils. These are impressions and reports from everyday school life. What we don't have is data to explain these impressions: How are children and young people doing overall, also in schools? How do they access care and what care structures are in place? There are no studies on how many children and young people actually suffer from mental illness. It is actually the responsibility of the state to remedy this. But that is not happening at the moment. We have been measuring learning outcomes in the Pisa study for over 20 years, but we don't measure how children and young people are doing psychologically at school at all. And that is absurd! We also need to map the care situation to make it clear: Children are not only burdened, they also can’t find help.

About the project

Monitor Education and Mental Health (Bipsy-Monitor)

Visite the website

The aim of the project is a nationwide monitor that maps the psychosocial care of children and adolescents in outpatient, psychotherapeutic care structures and in schools. The aim is to improve the psychosocial care of children and young people in a sustainable and data-based manner. The project was launched in February 2023 and is being implemented by Leipzig University, the Hanover University of Music, Drama and Media and the Robert Bosch Stiftung.

Visite the website

What is the aim of the BiPsy Monitor?

The results of the German School Barometer provide the basis and the BiPsy Monitor records and creates a nationwide representative monitoring of the situation in practices across Germany.  It provides answers to the following questions: How long do people have to wait for an initial consultation or therapy? What kind of patients are being treated? And what are the school-related stressors that bring children and young people into the practice? This is relevant and important. And in the long term, we want to use these results to rethink school and organize it in a way that it doesn't harm people’s mental health but promotes well-being.

Which it tends not to do at the moment...

I think our big mistake is that school is seen as a process people go through to achieve learning growth and learning skills. The main goal is to achieve grades. And in doing so, we ignore the individual requirements children and young people require to carry out this learning process well. And in many areas, schools do not feel responsible for this – because the task of schools is seen primarily as academic learning. But the aim of good teaching must be to bring well-being in harmony with learning growth. In our school system, no-one is concerned about a child who performs very well at school but is stressed and has trouble sleeping. As long as their performance is fine, it's not a problem. And that is precarious. Because it shows that this system does not consider this very important variable, the mental health of our children and young people.

„The aim of good teaching must be to bring well-being in harmony with learning growth." 

Quote fromJulian Schmitz
Quote fromJulian Schmitz

So should we talk more with the students than about them?

Absolutely. It's also about taking children and young people seriously as experts on their own well-being. We know from research that there are many areas of wellbeing that cannot be assessed from the outside. In psychological research studies, we often have very moderate to poor agreement when we ask adults and parents how children are doing and then ask the children themselves. Especially when it comes to feelings such as sadness, self-perception or self-confidence. And that means that you may make many important, but then wrong decisions.

More about the topic
Visite the Campus

On the campus of the German School Portal you will regularly find online events on the topic of wellbeing and psychosocial health of children and young people. Participation is free of charge. (German language)

Visite the Campus

What would you like to see change in our society as a result of the BiPsy Monitor?

My greatest wish would be that we consider the responsibility of this powerful institution of school to be not merely learning processes – in the sense of academic outcomes – but also to be well-being. In other words, we should think about educational success and well-being together and understand that both are interdependent. And that in this institution, creating well-being must be of equal importance to achieving good grades in math and German..

All we have to do is start collecting data, measuring it, and aligning our school processes with it. This is a longer transformation process. But I don't think we can avoid it. Look at the shortage of skilled workers. We can't afford to have 20 or 30 percent of adults in the future suffering from mental illness and losing their jobs as skilled workers. We have to do something. Because all studies show that if we don't take care of mental health, the costs to society as a whole will increase in all areas.


About the project

German School Barometer

On the results of past surveys (German language)

Since 2019, the Robert Bosch Stiftung has regularly commissioned representative surveys on the current situation of schools in Germany for the German School Barometer. In another edition of the school barometer in 2024, children, young people and parents/guardians will be surveyed for the first time on the topics of well-being, stress factors and psychosocial care. The results will be published in fall 2024.


On the results of past surveys (German language)
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