THE BLOG

There Is No Health Without Mental Health

17/02/2016 07:13 | Updated 17 February 2016

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No one would argue that teaching children about healthy eating and exercise is "over-medicalising". Being able to look after your own physical health is an important life skill and part of growing up.

Yet when we launched our recent campaign about children's 'mental health', a small minority of people accused us of "medicalising pupils' normal tensions and anxieties".

I must emphasise that the vast, vast majority of responses to Children's Mental Health Week were incredibly positive. We received messages of thanks and support from all over the world, including from many in the UK education sector who touch the lives of hundreds of children every day, and who told us that this campaign was desperately needed.

But still, we asked ourselves, why would some people be critical about helping children to address childhood anxieties, and develop life skills to have good mental health?

At the heart of this lies a fundamental misunderstanding about the term 'mental health'. 'Mental health' is not the same as 'mental illness'. The World Health Organisation states that:

Mental health is more than just the absence of mental disorders or disabilities. Mental health is a state of well-being in which an individual realises his or her own abilities, can cope with the normal stresses of life, can work productively and is able to make a contribution to his or her community.


This is not just a nuance of language, it is so much more fundamental. When we present the term 'mental health' as interchangeable with the term 'mental illness' we do little to dispel the stigma attached to our understanding of mental health and every individual's acceptance and awareness of their own.

Funnily enough, children seem to grasp this really easily. When we work with primary schools across England, Scotland and Wales, children quickly pick up the importance of being aware of their own emotions. This 'emotional intelligence' equips them with the ability to understand, manage and articulate strong feelings, as well as knowing how to cope when things do not go their way.

One 10 year old girl explained to a reporter who visited her school where Place2Be works:

Say you're feeling upset or something... if you keep it inside you'll blow up like a balloon, but when you speak to somebody it really helps you feel better.


The theme of our recent Children's Mental Health Week was 'building resilience' - helping children to bounce forward from life's challenges.

We know that life happens to children just as it does to adults - whether it is bereavement, family breakdown or worries about a family member's illness - we cannot protect children from life's ups and downs. But if we can help build their capacity to look at things from different perspectives and teach them skills to cope, including knowing when to ask for help, they will be able to develop resilience - a firm foundation of good mental health - which will hopefully continue to grow throughout their lifetime.

This is not over-medicalising. As the World Health Organisation says "there is no health without mental health", and until everyone understands this, we won't be in a position to ensure that our children are able to grow up into resilient, well-rounded, thriving young adults.

Young Minds Matter is a new series designed to lead the conversation with children about mental and emotional health, so youngsters feel loved, valued and understood. Launched with Her Royal Highness, The Duchess of Cambridge, as guest editor, we will discuss problems, causes and most importantly solutions to the stigma surrounding the UK's mental health crisis among children. To blog on the site as part of Young Minds Matter email ukblogteam@huffingtonpost.com

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