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Teaching Young People About Mental Health Is the Key to Helping Them Understand It

11/11/2015 11:11 GMT | Updated 09/11/2016 10:12 GMT

Mental health is a subject that has significant personal and societal importance to me. It is still regarded as a taboo subject that has a lot of stigma attached. I want to see this end and I believe that education at an early age is the answer. This is why I started a petition on Change.org, to get mental health taught in schools.

The statistic that gets used a lot is the one in four figure; one in four people will experience a mental health problem in any given year. Effectively if it's not you, then you will know someone that is affected. The impact that mental health brings not just on the individual, but the people and the environment around them is huge. Family members who may be full or part time carers, friends who see the individual everyday but may feel helpless as they cannot imagine what they are going through.

When you also consider lost working days, benefits, lost tax revenue and the cost of treatment, the figures start adding up. Not to mention people that have been failed by current mental health services so have to spend nights in police cells and some who end up in a cycle mental health issues count for around a quarter of the total impact of ill-health yet it receives just 13 per cent of the NHS budget. It is estimated by the mental health charity Mind that mental health costs the country close to £100bn. So we are talking about a big issue here.

On a personal level, I have experienced times of what you might call depression. I have also self harmed. I don't like to categorise myself of have or having suffered anything, because to me, labels shouldn't define anyone. I was down and not in a good place. I still occasionally enter that place. I wouldn't wish those feelings on anyone. Yet when I was feeling like this, I felt and still do feel like I could not talk to anyone about it. I couldn't say to my closest family, my dearest friends that I wasn't well. Why? We are social beings who communicate by talking and in the majority of instances start communications with 'Hi, How are you' yet every fibre of my being could not let anyone know what was going on in my little head.

As humans we are programmed to have a certain fear of subjects or situations that we have no knowledge. We are beings who learn and adapt through repetition. Many people may not be familiar with mental health issues, how to identify them in themselves and others or even what mental health is and encompasses. For me, education is the answer. If we can help educate the next generation then mental health stigma and discrimination will soon be a thing of the past.

This can start as simple as telling young people that it is ok to talk about how they are feeling and as they get older, introduce more structured and detailed syllabus where young people get an understanding of signs of mental health problems, in themselves as well as others. Early intervention through educating the next generation could really have a significant impact on attitudes. I truly believe that if I was taught about mental health during my school years then I would have been more confident in asking questions, and saying 'No it's not ok to feel like this' as opposed to the common notion of 'It's just part of growing up.'

In 2013 I conducted a comparative study of students' attitudes towards mental health. The main crux of it was: would people who studied psychology have different attitudes towards media student's. Basically, people who study mental health issues versus people who study the media where mental health can be portrayed quite negatively. I found that the media group used more trivial language in describing mental health and they got knowledge of mental health through celebrity accounts.

But one of the most important findings was that across both groups, not one person could recall ever being taught or had a lesson about mental health (bar psychology students learning about individual disorders through studying the subject). A 2009 study by Naylor et al. looked at the effects of just a six lesson teaching plan of mental health awareness in 14/15 year olds with regards to subjects that may affect young people such as suicide and self-harm, anxiety and eating disorders. They found - it may seem like common sense but pupils who received the lessons showed significantly more empathy and sensitivity towards people with mental health difficulties and they also used less derogatory expressions to describe mental health issues.

Mental health is bigger than an individual. It encompasses so much and has a effect on society There are resources for teachers to use from the Personal Social Health Education (PSHE) association and even a report titled mental health and behaviour in schools on the government's website, however PSHE is not part of the statutory national curriculum and what the government provides is advice.

I am passionate about this subject. I know what it was to be blind to mental health issues until they are happening to you. I don't want anyone else to feel like they cannot talk about their mental health because of the stigma attached to the subject and the discrimination they feel they may face. If we educate the next generation, we are not only promoting equality, but hope to dispel myths and stereotypes for mental health in a world free of discrimination, where bullying is a mere memory and we are prejudice free, over race, religion, gender and physical/mental health impairments.

So this is why I'm calling on the government to view mental health as an important subject, and include it in the national curriculum so it can be taught in schools.