It's 2017, I can't believe that I have to write this article. But it needs writing because if we don't talk about this pressing matter, nothing will ever be done about it.
MENTAL HEALTH EDUCATION IS NOT COMPULSORY IN SCHOOLS
How? Why? I don't even know. I can't give you any answers. If 1 in 4 suffer from a mental health problem and 1 in 10 young people struggle with their mental health, you would think that someone would have had the smart idea of making mental health education a mandatory subject within the education system.
CHRIST NO! Heaven forbids, that's too simple!
Instead, young people are left to suffer in silence. Unaware that they are not alone, that there is the help and support out there. "Leave it to the parents! " they say " It's not school's responsibility" they shout from their 140 Twitter characters. I wonder if these people are blind or just plain arrogant to the world we live in today.
Children as young as four are seeking help for their mental health. Four? Yes, you read that right, four! When I was four, I was just about to start school. I enjoyed playing with my teddies and had no cares in the world. In a society that now gives their children tablets and mobile phones, at the tender age of two or three, what the hell do you expect? Don't get me wrong, I'm all for children knowing how to work technology because that is inevitably where the world is going but surely there is has got to be a cutoff point.
Kids nowadays grow up on social media. They follow these celebs with perfect lives, perfect bodies and can afford all the latest stuff. Children reflect on themselves, distraught by the fact that they can't go on all these fancy holidays, they can't fit into size 4 clothing and their photos on Instagram don't get 1000 likes within 10 minutes of being posted.
This unrealistic world full of fakery, branding and photoshopping, we adults know is all idealistic, but children don't. Children as young as eight have Instagram. When their parents grew up, the internet probably wasn't even a thing. I feel old saying that for the first 5 years of my life, Facebook wasn't even a thing. Today's grown ups don't understand the pressures young children are under in today's modern, technology-obsessed society.
And even if they do understand, do they know the full extent of how much social media dominates young people's lives. Your 13-year-old who you think is chatting with her friends on Facebook may be on a pro-ana website. Your 14-year-old boy, who you think is playing games with his friends may be being cyber bullied. Adults these days don't know how much good and bad there is on the internet, all accessible to vulnerable young children.
To get the message across you need to get children in the masses. The only way to do this is through school. " School isn't for that kind of thing!" " All they need is a good counsellor" WAKE UP! SMELL THE COFFEE! NHS waiting lists are ridiculously long. Only 13.8% of England's health budget goes on mental health. There is no way they can accommodate the 1 in 10 young people struggling. Private care is expensive thus not accessible to all.
The care you receive for your mental health should not be determined by your postcode or income.
The vast majority of children in the UK have access to education, schools and teachers. Far more than those who have access to care and support for their mental health. Isn't it just blindly obvious to stop this mental health epidemic we have currently in Britain, we need to teach children when they are young? Lifelong mental health problems commonly start when a child is 14, that number is only ever going to decrease if we don't do something now.
"Oh but the purpose of school is to teach children maths, English and science. Proper subjects, so they can go out into the real world and get a job" Can I tell you this: £77 billion pounds is the cost to the national economy because of welfare benefits and loss of productivity, which is a direct result of poor mental health and mental illness. Don't get me wrong, maths and English are important but surely isn't it more important having a generation of workers who can actually use the skills they learn in school and get good jobs instead of being, too depressed or too anxious to leave their home as a result of mental health issues.
OF COURSE, IT IS!
By teaching children early the importance of good mental health, talking about their emotions, recognising different mental illnesses and talking openly about their mental health, the fewer children who will need specialist support thus reducing NHS waiting times.
I'm not a fan of many politicians because they waffle and flap around, make promises and don't get things done. Here is what I think needs to be done:
Pre-school: Before children reach school, they should be taught the importance of having down time and talking openly about their emotions. Children need to know it is okay to be sad, whether you are a boy or girl but it's important to talk about it. All pre-schools need to have an enforced policy on respecting their own and others bodies.
Primary school: A continuation of what they are learnt at pre-school age. Taught mindfulness and meditation exercises. Year five/ six should be taught about where they can get help, depression, eating disorders and anxiety in a sensitive and easy to understand way.
Secondary school: Children need to be taught about all the different mental illnesses, how to spot symptoms. They need to know what to do if they think their friend is struggling. Be made aware very regularly the importance of getting help, talking about mental health and being encouraged to support others. At this age, being aware of the stigma around mental health is crucial. Making sure they are aware of the decisions they make and how the language they use can add to the stigma. Encouraging self-care and reducing exam pressure is also fundamental in improving mental health.
College/ sixth: Everything that is taught in secondary school just in more depth and more explicit. Having a lesson with their tutor once a week about mental health will be very beneficial in helping young adults understand it better but also be able to look after themselves more.
If one day I have kids and they reach school age, and mental health education isn't mandatory I will be really disappointed and seriously consider if I want to send my children to a school that doesn't understand the importance of mental health education.
Teachers are probably screaming at their screens " We don't have the time to teach anymore..." I acknowledge teachers are under a hell load of pressure. But don't you see, so are your pupils? Your students are breaking in two because of the ever demanding pressure for young people to look good, feel good and get A* grades at everything.
YOUNG PEOPLE ARE NOT ROBOTS. WE MAY USE A LOT OF ROBOTS, BUT WE ARE NOT.
Everyone has a mental health. Everyone's mental health is subjected to get poorly and unwell from time to time, just like physical health. We teach children the importance of eating those five portions of fruit and veg a day and doing lots of exercises, which do admittedly help mental health. But why don't we teach children the importance of self-love, self-care and self-appreciation? Learning to take a break and understanding it's okay to not be okay.
I'm not saying it's not the parent's responsibility to look after their children and address any mental health concerns they may have, ASAP with a doctor. Of course, they have to care for their children. But schools need to step up to mark and actually realise and understand the mental health crisis we face in modern day Britain. Sweeping it under the carpet, in denial isn't going to do anything. In fact, it will only get worse.
I would love to know your views on this topic, in the comments below.
Thanks for reading, as always X
All statistics used in this post were sourced from The National Development: Mental health unit
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