THE BLOG

Mental Health Cannot Be Kept Out of the Classroom

06/10/2014 11:17 BST | Updated 03/12/2014 10:59 GMT

The Liberal Democrats want to make personal, social and health education (PSHE) lessons mandatory, including lessons about conditions such as anxiety and depression.

I'm sure I'm joined by the 850,000 young people who are coping with mental health issues in thinking, finally! Over a year ago, I called for a sea-change in how we approach young people's mental health and wellbeing. This announcement is a step forward, and something that thousands of young people (through our mental health support site MindFull), have called on us to push for.

Let's not kid ourselves - mental health is already in our classrooms. Three children in every classroom experience a diagnosable mental health problem, and many more deal with issues around anxiety, stress and body image. Left unchecked, this can spiral into acute, long-term mental illness.

According to our research, almost two thirds of young people agree that including mental health in the national curriculum would be an effective way to tackle mental health issues among young people today.

But in a vacuum of education, many teenagers have had to seek out their own answers. And whilst there are a huge number of excellent support websites and resources out there, unfortunately, many have told us they've seen pro-anorexia or bulimia sites, pro-self harm content and even pro-suicide. As a nation, we are letting our young people down if we can't educate them about their mental health and encourage them to speak out and get help.

One 16-year-old girl who volunteers on MindFull.org highlighted why education is so crucial, when told us that she'd struggled with depression for six months before telling anyone, because she didn't realise what was wrong:

"At first I didn't realise it was depression, because what I'd read in the media made me think about being sad, but I didn't feel anything - just numbness. It was like an overwhelming pressure pushing down on me, making me feel claustrophobic.

"We desperately need more education about mental health issues so young people can spot the signs early."

Added to this all too common fear and confusion is the culture of stigma, misunderstanding, ignorance and shame which young people experience when trying to cope with mental health. Education can go a huge way towards tackling this.

Of course, even when we get to a point where mental health could be on the curriculum, there is a huge debate to be had around what, how and when it should be taught. This will come in time, and I hope to see MindFull's passionate young volunteers and other teenagers at the centre of any consultation. But for now, I simply urge the other political parties to listen to the calls of young people, mental health charities and society as a whole to ensure the next generation is supported to be healthy, happy and fulfilled.