THE BLOG

I Worry That The General Election Could Mean Thousands Of Voices Will Be Ignored By Government

03/05/2017 12:27 BST | Updated 03/05/2017 12:27 BST

When the snap General Election was announced in April it was greeted by many with mixed emotions for all types of reasons. For me, it made me worry that the voice of thousands of mental health campaigners might be ignored by the government.

I myself am in recovery from mental illness, having battled from the age of five with obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD), debilitating anxiety, panic attacks and depression. They have stayed with me throughout childhood and into adulthood and drove me to the brink of suicide just a few years ago.

Having not been educated about mental health, I did not know what else to do. It was only in my final moments, on the brink of suicide, that I felt peaceful for a moment and suddenly realised help was necessary.

I sought that help from Dr Lauren Callaghan, a clinical psychologist. We have since co-founded The Shaw Mind Foundation, a global charity fighting for mental health injustices around the world that provides support to anyone who may have lost hope; both those who suffer and those who support them. We have also launched a campaign - HeaducationUK - calling on the government to make mental health education compulsory in schools.

We made it our mission to demonstrate to government the huge levels of public support for improving mental health education in schools. We decided the best way to show this would be through a government petition - at 100,00 signatures, they are automatically considered for debate in Parliament. We had until 6 July to secure this, but due to the snap General Election the deadline was brought forward to today.

At 19.59 on Bank Holiday Monday the petition reached 100,000 signatures. The British people have shown an overwhelming support for compulsory mental health education. It makes you think just how many signatures the petition would have received had the General Election not have been called.

Suicide is the biggest killer of young people under 35, with on average 126 suicides a week. Data also shows that three pupils in every classroom suffer from a diagnosable mental health condition. It's a pervasive problem that affects all of society.

It is essential that we improve mental health education in schools to reduce the taboo around conditions such as OCD, anxiety, depression, eating disorders and others. It is up to the government to deliver on the will of the people.

Despite the popular support and importance of this issue, there is a chance that the government will not consider our petition for debate and will use the new deadline and the dissolution of parliament as cover to bury this issue.

But the campaign has jumped through every hoop presented by the government, and still succeeded in showing wide support.

If the government fails to consider this issue for debate, it'll be taken as an indication by the mental health community that they do not really care about improving how mental health is taught, and laying the foundations of sound mental wellbeing for our children and future generations.

If the government fails to consider this issue for debate, it'll show a lack of understanding of how deeply mental health conditions affect society as a whole, and the fundamental changes we can make to society by teaching mental health properly from a young age. Mental health conditions put undue strain on the NHS and UK economy as a whole. They also lead to children living in extreme hardship and poverty, in situations where a parent suffers from a debilitating mental health condition.

If the government fails to consider this issue for debate, it'll be an indication to the education community that teachers and schools do not deserve the support and investment necessary to tackle mental health properly. This can only be achieved if mental health education is compulsory and the government commits to funding it properly. Responsibility should not lie solely with teachers and schools. They should be supported.

So far, mental health education is a small part of personal, social, health and economic education (PSHE) lessons which has failed to give adequate weight to the subject, and is not taught uniformly across the country.

A report released yesterday by the Health and Education Select Committees supports our campaign's view, and states that promotion of wellbeing cannot be confined to PHSE lessons. The committees support the need for a whole school approach, and we believe mental health education as a compulsory part of the curriculum is a necessary starting point.

Considering the upcoming General Election, this is an opportunity for the government and all parties to show their support for the wellbeing of our children, and to include compulsory mental health education in their manifestos.

I see this as an opportunity for the UK to lead the world in recognising the importance of mental health, as we already recognise physical health.

The government should not shy away from its duty or hide behind process. It should embrace the recommendations of the Health and Education Select Committees, the view of leading clinical experts and the call from the public in the form of 100,000 petition signatures - and give this issue the hearing it deserves."