THE BLOG

Today We Become The First Country To Roll Out Mental Health First Aid Training In Every Secondary School

27/06/2017 07:00 BST | Updated 27/06/2017 07:00 BST
PA Wire/PA Images

Whilst the NHS faces many challenges, it is also managing to deliver a quiet revolution in mental health provision, with around 1,400 more people accessing mental health treatment every day compared to seven years ago - and today we pass another important milestone when we become the first country in the world to roll out mental health first aid training to every secondary school.

Why mental health, why schools and why first aid? One child in ten has a diagnosable mental health condition - three in every classroom. Even more shockingly, half of all cases of mental illness take root before the age of 14. We know early intervention massively increases the chances of making a good recovery - but only if we become much better at spotting and dealing with problems earlier.

In January this year I did a Mental Health First Aid course run by a brilliant social enterprise called Mental Health First Aid England. Slightly to my surprise, quite a lot of the course is about looking after your own mental wellbeing. I suppose it's obvious when you think about it - you can't look after others until you know how to look after yourself.

But there is a broader point. We all now leave school knowing the basics of how to look after ourselves physically - healthy vs unhealthy food, the importance of exercise - but with very little knowledge of how to cope with the personal crises so many of us face at some stage. Relationship breakdown, bereavement and disappointment at work are effectively part of life - so why don't we all learn the basics of how to cope with them?

In the process of learning about how people experience mental distress, the course then teaches you to spot signs in others around you who might be experiencing difficulty. Statistically you are more likely to meet someone about to attempt suicide than about to have a heart attack - so everyone should know what to do.

And teachers have perhaps the most important role of all in spreading this knowledge, which is why we are rolling out MHFA to every secondary school. But that is just the start - later this year we will publish a green paper on children and young people's mental health. We will look at issues of access to specialist mental health treatment (still much too hard for many young people) and the whole question of prevention. The latter is vital: one of the worst mistakes would be to 'medicalise' every low a young person goes through - so we need to teach people about resilience and self-help as a first, vital, step.

Jeremy Hunt is the Secretary of State for Health, and Conservative MP for South West Surrey

To find out more about the Mental Health First Aid programme, click here