Mental health is something we all have to deal with throughout our lives.
That’s whether we come up against mental illness, have to cope with grief, or even just need to get through work-related stress
We all have mental health. It’s something we all have to take care of. It impacts everyone.
So it’s strange, then, that mental health isn’t something we mention in schools.
The most many young people hear about depression – now the leading cause of illness around the world – is a session during a Psychology A Level.
There’s no advice on what to do if you start experiencing mental illness, no words of wisdom on helping those around you, and no lessons dedicated to breaking down the myths and stigma around mental health.
And that’s a serious issue. It’s leaving young people feeling alone and unable to cope. It’s allowing misinformation to spread and cries for help to be ignored.
That’s why Headucation UK has launched a petition to make mental health education compulsory in all UK schools.
They’ve already managed to get 75,000 signatures, but need 100,000 by 3 May (the date was moved up thanks to the snap General Election) to make sure the petition will be considered for debate in parliament.
Adam Shaw, Co-Founder of the Shaw Mind Foundation, who started the campaign, told metro.co.uk that he was moved to create the petition thanks to his own experiences with mental illness, and the lack of support he received.
‘I suffered from the age of five with obsessive compulsive disorder, debilitating anxiety, panic attacks and depression,’ Adam told metro.co.uk.
‘Throughout my childhood, I felt unable to discuss my mental health issues with family, teachers or other mentors – I was left to cope by himself, despite having a very good relationship with my parents and a close network of friends.
‘My mental health issues stayed with me throughout adolescence and I carried them into adulthood.
‘In 2013, at crisis point I found myself stood on a railway bridge. Luckily, I took a step back and sought help from a psychologist, Dr Lauren Callaghan.
‘Together, Dr Lauren Callaghan and I set up The Shaw Mind Foundation, a mental health charity that provides support to anyone who may have lost hope; both the sufferer and those who support them.
‘We decided that instead of solely focusing on providing support, we should also be seeking to prevent the proliferation of mental health amongst our children, many of whom suffer silently, just like I did.’
Adam notes that around three children in every classroom suffer for mental health disorders, and one in five will experience a mental health difficulty before the age of 11 – so no, it’s not just a ‘grownup problem’.
Without treatment, early age mental illness and disorders can have a massive impact on young people’s lives, influencing everything from their hopes for the future to their relationships.
To skim over mental health in schools is to fail to provide adequate support and education for the high number of teenagers self-harming (over the last ten years, the number of young people admitted to hospital due to self-harm has increased by 68%), feeling low and alone, or considering suicide.
Ignoring the issue can have serious outcomes.
It’s also important to remember that mental health education is beneficial to everyone – not just those going through mental illness.
‘Schooling focuses on physical and academic education from a young age, yet virtually neglects mental wellbeing,’ says Adam.
‘By educating young people about mental health and wellbeing in school, we can increase resilience and coping skills, boost awareness of mental health difficulties, and encourage open, honest discussions about mental health
‘This would increase early diagnosis and access to help for young people suffering from mental health problems which will prevent some conditions becoming chronic and severe.
‘The ultimate objective must be to create an environment where mental health is valued alongside academic achievement and physical activity. This is essential for young people and their families, and the whole of society.’
Making mental health education compulsory, and making looking after mental wellbeing as important as academic success and physical fitness, could change the world for the better.
It could help young people feel less alone. It could give them the tools to cope. It could literally save lives.
It’s a huge part of breaking down the stigma and silence around mental health, starting early.
‘I was very secretive about what I was going through growing up, as I didn’t know what was wrong with me,’ says Adam.
‘My life would have been completely different had I been given effective mental health education at primary school. I would have been able to ask for help, and wouldn’t have been so frightened.
‘No child should have to experience that pain and fear. It is essential that we make mental health education compulsory.’
If you’d like to make mental health education compulsory, make sure to sign the Shaw Foundation’s petition before 3 May. We need this.
To sign the petition … https://petition.parliament.uk/petitions/176555