A study undertaken by anti-stigma campaign Time to Change found that 15% of young people experienced bullying as a result of their mental health problem.
The study which questioned over 3,000 young people who had experienced mental health problems during their time in education found that nearly a third of those were on the receiving end of derogatory language from peers in school.
The stigma surrounding mental health can make those with mental health problems the targets of bullying, piling extra stress on top of the pressure of having a mental health problem and the pressure of performing well at school. Unsurprisingly, these young people are missing large chunks of their education by taking time off from school or college. In fact, the same study found that 77% of young people have missed out on education because of a mental illness.
Students find it easier to use physical illnesses to excuse their absence, rather than speak up about their problems and seek help within their school or college. Time to Change found that nearly half of those questioned did not tell anyone in their place of education about their mental health problem. It was more acceptable among their peers to appear to be physically ill because of the stigma and ignorance surrounding mental health problems.
Stigma and its effects are a drop in the water that can cause ripples throughout the rest of each individual's education, career, and personal life. It is important that this stigma is addressed and young people can access the help they need without fear of bullying. There are two key steps to making a positive change within schools and they are:
- Removing the stigma - people fear what they do not understand. Mental illness is called an "invisible illness" because it does not always have any obvious physical symptoms. As it cannot be seen, not everyone believes it is there or understands what it is, yet, statistically, around 3 in every classroom will experience a mental health problem at any one time. Frequent workshops and assemblies on mental health and well-being including causes, symptoms, experiences and necessary support, will help people to see the unseen.
- Removing the silence - know that someone is listening. Many with mental health problems will not speak about it if they do not know who to go to or do not feel that they will receive help. Giving a safe, knowledgeable and non-judgmental environment is vital in encouraging those suffering to come forward. Make sure students know who they can talk to and what kind of help and support they can receive.
This is just the start in improving how we handle mental health problems within education. To find out how you can help reduce the stigma attached to mental health within your school then please click here.
Written by Sarah McAsey and Katie Buckingham