I have struggled with my mental health since I was 14. I was rushed into A & E due to complications of anorexia just a few months before my GCSE exams were due to start and took most of Year 11 off to recover. But there was still an expectation that I would achieve the A*s I was predicted and go on to apply to Oxbridge. I got the A*s, I didn't apply to Oxbridge though because my anorexia had taught me that there were lots of issues in my life that were difficult enough, without added academic pressure.
That was in 2007. Nine years later and schoolchildren are battling with more complex issues than ever before, with rises in cyberbullying, radicalisation, and pornography alongside being in an education system which examines them more than any other in the world. We have known for a long time now that our kids are in the midst of a mental health crisis; rates of depression and anxiety are up by 70%, hospital admissions for self harm in young people are up by 68% and 850,000 children have a diagnosable mental health problem. So when the Government appointed Natasha Devon as mental health champion for schools in August 2015 the news couldn't have come soon enough.
Natasha's role was to raise awareness of, and reduce the stigma around mental health in young people. I don't claim to know Natasha personally, but we have worked together professionally in the past when we were both running body image campaign work. She has probably spent as much time in the classroom as any of the teachers I know, and has certainly had the opportunity to connect with young people on a personal and emotional level.
Her appointment by the Department of Education was part of the 'mental health revolution' that David Cameron promised us when he vowed "to take away that shame, that embarrassment.." that comes from having a mental health problem. The Government wanted Natasha to be objective so her position was unsalaried, giving her the freedom to be honest about the state of mental health in schools.
Yet when Natasha dared to criticise the rigorous testing culture our Government subjects children and teachers to, (which, incidentally appears to be getting even worse as now parents and kids are striking) and after she wrote a candid, fiery but entirely justified TES article on the Government's failure to tackle this issue, she was removed from her position.
So somebody who was hired but not paid for their expertise and ability to be objective, was then fired for offering their expertise and being objective. What's more, this decision came right at the start of the current exam season, straight after the academisation plans were announced and exactly at a time when children need people like Natasha fighting their corner.
Mental health revolution indeed.Suggest a correction