Mental health education needs to be compulsory in schools.
With everyone talking about the phenomenon that is the book turned Netflix drama 13 Reasons Why, the spotlight has finally been placed on the subject of youth mental health. The story portrays the harsh reality of teenage suicide and how school can play a huge role in a young person’s mental wellbeing.
After all, school is where children spend the majority of their day for 5 days a week. It is the place a sense of identity is created and adulthood is prepared for. Friendships are made and relationships form. The ladder of popularity and achievement and the repercussions of judgement can define a young person’s life. Social exclusion, exam stress, friendship conflicts and bullying will all affect a child’s wellbeing dramatically. Especially in today’s world where you’re expected to plan your whole life by 16, social media is thriving and cyberbullying is on the rise.
So why are we not teaching children the importance of the health of their wellbeing?
Mental health should be valued equally alongside physical activity, academic achievement and future prospect. Physical education lessons are compulsory in the school curriculum in the UK, where the importance of healthy eating and exercise is taught. So why isn’t mental health education compulsory alongside physical?
Statistically, 3 children in each classroom have a diagnosable mental health problem, with 1 in 4 under 18’s experiencing suicide thoughts. In the past couple of years, there has been a 70% increase in cases of self harm amongst 10-14 year olds in Britain.
When I was young, I was secretive about how I was feeling as I didn’t know any different so I had no clue what was wrong with me. The only in-depth conversation I had about mental health with a teacher was during my psychology A-level at college. Maybe if the subject of mental health was introduced to me at primary school, I may not be going through what I do today.
We should be teaching children how to cope with stress and change. How to understand their thoughts and emotions and recognising when and how to ask for help. Schools need to do more than read symptoms off an outdated worksheet or put a tiny flyer about the school counsellor on a bulletin absolutely no one will look at. We need to teach young people the importance of their mental health, the realities of mental illness, stigma and misconceptions, treatment options and how they should not feel weak or ashamed.
A childhood is every person’s starting line. It is a time that can define the rest of your life. By teaching mental health education in schools, this could increase early diagnosis which may decrease the mental illness worsening and could improve quality of life in adulthood. It could literally be the difference between life and death.