THE BLOG

Mental Health Education: The Next Step

15/11/2016 12:30

For years primary and secondary schools across the nation have been teaching children about alcohol and drug abuse, staying safe in the real world and on-line. This education - whether you brand it citizenship, SEAL or PHSE - has been deemed vital and, rightly so, has the support of parents and the Government.

But there's still something missing from the curriculum.

Mental health awareness is increasingly becoming a recognised issue in society as sufferers are coming forward and sharing their stories. Stories that range from 12-year-olds who have visited their GP time and time again, only to be told to 'get over it' while they actually have clinical depression; to a teenager on the verge of suicide, having to travel thousands of miles away from home to have a bed in a secure unit. These stories are frankly harrowing, haunting and horrific, but they suggest one thing: change is needed.

The change in particular must come directly in the area of children's mental health. After the Duchess of Cambridge guest-edited The Huffington Post for Children's Mental Health Week, there was finally conversation around children who suffer with illnesses like depression, anxiety and bipolar disorder.

However, this endorsement has not and could never change everything overnight. It takes years to change minds, never mind governments.

It raised short-term awareness of the issue at hand, but it has not solved the deeply worrying fact that a scarce 6% of the mental health budget is dedicated to children's mental health. It has not solved the problem that three children in each class of thirty suffer from a diagnosable mental health disorder.

What will solve this problem? Education.

Education can help us get one step closer to eradicating stigma and resolving the political and economic issues surrounding mental health.

Perhaps Justine Greening herself should take some time to see what it's really like being in a hospital bed 3,000 miles away from home and comfort while you're being watched by nurses in case you self-harm. Perhaps Justine Greening should speak with a depressed teenager about how each day is another one where they are numb, void of all hope. Perhaps that would make her realise that mental health education has be put on the national curriculum and government might finally listen.

In addition to a change in the curriculum, there should be a huge push for all students to have access to in-school counselling services so that they have somewhere to speak up and let go.

Once we introduce mental health education, we reduce the levels of stigma taken into the next generation. That is the greatest thing we could hope to achieve in terms of eradicating prejudice surrounding illnesses that if they don't affect us, they affect someone we know.

Until this happens, thousands of young people will hide in silence, too afraid to speak out about their illness in case they are judged, unlike their friend who fractured a bone in their arm.

It's time we started education. In a whole new sense.

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