IT'S only when students start failing to achieve their forecasted grades that alarm bells start ringing, says 19-year-old Tia Berry.

But in her own experience, they should have received the help long before that point.

Tia wants to "start the conversation about poor mental health among the young" and the help that is needed, but apparently lacking in the very place where they surely have the right to expect it most - at school.

"I want to raise awareness," she said. "My friends, my peers and I who have struggled with mental health, we just want someone to hear us rather than assuming what they think we mean.

"If they'd just give us the time to explain, but they don't and so they will never really know how we actually feel."

The root cause of the problem was the failure of education authorities to grasp what a growing problem stress, anxiety and depression was in schools today and, as a result, the inadequate level of resources given to pastoral care departments to help tackle it.

There were too few people on the ground tasked with helping students personally, and those there were had little or no training in the field of mental health, she said.

Tia has just left Hexham's Queen Elizabeth High School after three years in the sixth form department and a fluctuating level of mental health that at times mirrored her father's own battle with his demons.

"When I was in Year 11, my dad was quite ill with his own mental health and I went to ask for help, but I was made to feel like I was overreacting, so I was put off from going back.

"If I'd got the help then, my own problems would never have escalated in the way they did."

She was told it was "just stress", she said, but stress was magnified in the young and if not dealt with properly, only got worse.

She had muddled through to Year 12. However, in the first term one of her art teachers said she didn't seem to be 'with it' and asked her if she was OK. By that time, Tia was struggling with food and eating too.

Tia dropped the multifaceted Health & Social Care BTec diploma she was doing in favour of a third A level, thereby reducing her workload, but that didn't really help.

She then struggled to cope during a school trip to Barcelona, where rather than go out with her friends, she sat with her art teachers instead. "The art department were fantastic to me," she said. "I don't think I would have got through sixth form without their help."

However, the pastoral care department seemed to be depleted of resources, she said. There was only one member of staff appointed to each year group and its 300 or so pupils.

And there was one school nurse who visited once a week. "But there are more than a thousand students at QEHS! She doesn't have time to do anything except give out booklets, mostly on self-help."

She claimed she had dropped through the net soon afterwards when, after being off school for a month with anxiety, no-one checked up on her when she returned.

First and foremost, staff - and particularly pastoral care staff - needed to be properly trained in the causes of mental health and how best to guide pupils to the help they needed.

She said: "When you are anxious, it can be quite hard to just phone your GP, so if schools could be more savvy about referrals and helping students access support - just simple signposting really - that would help a lot.

"Schools and support services should be better connected anyway."

The only question she had been asked upon her return was how she was doing with her course work.

"The thing is, we're not asking for fancy computers and the best in technology - we care more about our health," she said.

"But it seems the money is being invested in achieving the best grades rather than in the pupils themselves.

"If it was invested directly in the pupils though we'd get better grades anyway."