I look back at the day I was hospitalised for mental health problems and wonder what could have been different; did it have to end that way? Perhaps if I had known the warning signs, and perhaps if me and my friends felt it was ok to talk to talk about how we felt we were coping with life's ups and downs then my first experience of mental health issues wouldn't have ended in a trip to the Emergency Room. I could tell you everything about GCSE RE, Biology and Chemistry and Physics but when it came to the essential task of looking after myself emotionally I had been failing for years.
There is enough information out there for kids to access on physical health; what to eat, how to exercise sufficiently and in recent years sex education has improved and kids are more clued up than they ever have been before about safe sex.
But mental health is an area where we are massively failing our children. Anxiety and depression rates are higher than ever before, 1 in 12 young people self -harm and 3 children in every classroom around the UK has a diagnosable mental health condition. We are happy to teach our kids the basics of healthy eating and show them how to cook in Home Economics lessons but there is very little out there on how to maintain emotional wellbeing, how to relax and where they can get help when everything feels a bit too much. Instead, we pile on exam pressure, and terrorise them with stories of how they will end up paying 50 times over what they can afford for uni, or those who don't go to uni are left wondering if they will ever get into the jobs market.
I remember feeling very low before my anorexia and anxiety started; I struggled with feelings of emptiness and guilt and was often too tearful and too exhausted to go out after school. Withdrawing into my bedroom each night after the usual argument with my mum was pretty much how I remember those months preceding the anorexia. I was a top student and the grade predictions I had on my report card seemed insurmountable goals, I fought a lot with my parents and was struggling a lot to come to terms with a massive bereavement. In short, before I stopped eating I was experiencing all the typical signs of depression. Except neither me nor my friends had any clue what depression was; and nor did the thought ever even occur to me that I might be able to tell them that I wasn't coping. My mum had decided I was 'moody, irritable and always crying about something.' So I guess nobody told her what depression was either. Emotions and emotional wellbeing just weren't things any of us spoke about.
If we consider physical health important enough to devote 1-2 hours a week to Physical Education lessons and run an array of after school sports clubs then why don't we consider mental health important enough to put it on the curriculum? Suicide is the second leading cause of death for young men and just one hour a week of teaching kids to develop healthy ways of coping with life's pressures and how to recognise the early warning signs of mental distress could save a life. In addition, once we start to talk about mental health in an open way from very early on in life, we can start tackling some of the prejudice and stigma surrounding mental health before it even has a chance to gain momentum. And that's why I am fully behind Time To Change's 'Time to Talk day' on Thursday 6th February.
If you or somebody you know is a child or young person experiencing mental health difficulties, MindFull offers free online counselling services, mentoring and self- help tools in a safe online environment.