I didn’t leave school that long ago and looking back I can’t remember any lessons or assemblies with a focus on mental health. We had PSHE (personal, social and health education) lessons and PSHE days and the main focus of these lessons were either on sex or drugs with the occasional career day that involved circus skills and meeting the army…it didn’t exactly set us up for life! It is important to talk about sex and drugs and careers, of course it is but the H in PSHE stands for Health and with 1 in 4 of us suffering from a mental health problem, mental health should’ve been focused on.
I often wonder if statistically more people out of my class have experienced mental illness than used ecstasy…I imagine they probably have and yet we spent hours talking about drugs and not a second talking about mental health. Mental health affects all of the main three focuses of our PSHE lessons, mental health and drug use go hand in hand, as do mental health and sex and mental health and careers. If someone is experiencing a mental health problem then they may turn to drugs but also the drug use can cause mental illness. Sometimes people use sex as a way to cope with mental health problems but also the emotional feelings that sex bring up can affect someones’ mental health. We were taught how to put a condom on a banana but we weren’t taught how to deal with the feelings of guilt or inadequacy that sex can bring up. We were encouraged to join the army but not taught about post-traumatic stress disorder. That is wrong.
We all have mental health, the same as we have physical health. We are taught to take care of our physical health, to eat a nutritious diet and to take medicine when we are ill, we are taught to get enough sleep and to dress warmly in the winter. We should all be taught how to look after our mental health too regardless of whether we have a mental illness or not. Everyone should know how to self-soothe, how to distract themselves when they are sad and how to describe their thoughts and emotions. We all have mental health and we all need to look after ourselves both physically and mentally.
I think the secondary school age is key, 11-18 year olds are at a crucial point in their lives and if people get it wrong when it comes to mental health it can be devastating. These are young people with their whole lives ahead of them and if young people are taught to talk about and look after their mental health then their future is a bright and successful one. At the moment people get left behind, self-harm and depression is swept under the carpet, pupils end up feeling isolated and ultimately education fails them. Education failed me, I got A grades, I was an intelligent student but I was made to feel weird, different and ‘a risk’ and in the end I lost my place and had to leave education because of my mental illness. I felt like I couldn’t talk to people about my mental health, friends or teachers because it would scare them or worry them when looking back there should’ve been mental health lessons or days to make students more aware of mental health. I wonder how many other people there were that hid their mental illness in order to carry on their education.
Education is the first building block of life, the foundation on which young people build their own lives and personalities. It’s the start of forming peoples’ opinions and views on the world. If we want to stamp out stigma and stereotypes then it needs to start in school. Educate young minds and tell them that it’s okay to talk about mental health so that they will go through the rest of their life feeling like they don’t have to hide the truth, so that they can help their mum or sister or future child because mental illness is close to us all whether we have realised that yet or not.
Physical education is compulsory, mental health education should be too.