Secondary school student Ryan Curran, 17, makes the case for introducing mental health education in schools
ON 22 January, a petition on the UK Government website calling for the introduction of mental health education to the national schools curriculum closed after reaching the six-month timeframe all petitions run for on the newly set up system.
It was a petition I had recently signed and was hoping would reach the 100,000 mark needed for it to debated in the Westminster Parliament. Devastatingly, the petition only received half the number of signatures required to be debated.
Although education is a devolved matter in Scotland and separate from decisions made in Westminster, if the petition had reached the required number this would have put the issue under the spotlight throughout the UK, pressuring both Westminster and Holyrood to assess the issue.
The scale of the problem shows not enough is being done, and introducing an educational scheme would be one way of addressing it.
The publicity issues receive as a result of successful petitions on the UK Government website has been shown most recently in the form of the debate on whether or not to ban Donald Trump from entering the UK, demonstrating the opportunity missed in this petition failing to reach 100,000 signatures.
Indeed, the reasons behind the campaign to introduce mental health education in schools seem like common sense. The scale of the problem shows not enough is being done, and introducing an educational scheme would be one way of addressing it.
Statistics from Young Minds, a group dedicated to helping people deal with mental health as well as raising awareness of the issue, shows us that around one in every three pupils aged between five and 16 in class have a diagnosable mental health problem.
Furthermore, between one in every 12 and one in 15 children and young people deliberately self-harm. These figures suggest a huge problem regarding the sheer number of young people suffering from some form of mental health problem.
Between one in every 12 and one in 15 children and young people deliberately self-harm.
However, it is not as if these figures have been dropping in recent years. In fact, they have done the exact opposite. Over the past 10 years, there has been a 68 per cent increase in the number of people being admitted to hospital because of self-harm.
This figure is perhaps the most staggering out of them all, demonstrating that not only is mental health among young people widespread but that it would appear to be getting worse among many young people, at least in terms of self-harm.
An educational set-up to inform young people about mental health would benefit everybody. It would reduce the stigma attached to mental health and, in turn, make people feel more comfortable talking about it, along with educating people in how best to deal with mental health problems both personally and concerning friends or family members.
Teachers would also be equipped with the skills necessary to deal with pupils suffering from mental health problems, allowing them to more effectively deal with such issues when they arise.
These figures suggest a huge problem regarding the sheer number of young people suffering from some form of mental health problem.
With sex education being taught in schools across the UK, it begs the question of why mental health is not treated with similar seriousness. After all, no one would sensibly argue that the sexual health of pupils is more important than their mental health; both issues are equally as important.
As a school student in my final year, it is clear many other young people do not have the necessary knowledge about the extent to which mental health is an issue, nor do they know the best ways to deal with it.
A lesson every week educating pupils about the problems facing many young people would surely be beneficial to those who simply lack knowledge of the issue, are suffering from mental health issues themselves or need help in assisting friends or family through the difficult process.
No matter which angle you look at it from, introducing mental health education into schools is a positive policy. The only cost would be financial, which is, sadly, perhaps the reasoning behind the education secretary’s reprehensible decision not to take such action in England.
Despite opposition pressure from almost all parties, it seems mental health education is not a priority for the UK Government.
In Scotland, the SNP has pledged to tackle the issue head on, increasing spending by PS85m on mental health services and introducing the first ever minister for mental health following pressure that not enough was being done to tackle mental health problems across Scotland.
With the Holyrood election coming up in May, it will be interesting to see if any of the main parties make a commitment to mental health education in schools.
These changes in Scotland can only be welcomed and show the Scottish Government is taking action on such a vital issue. But undoubtedly more can be done. As it stands, the national curriculum in Scotland includes “learning about relationships, sexual health, and parenthood”.
However, it does not mention mental health.
With the Holyrood election coming up in May, it will be interesting to see if any of the main parties make a commitment to mental health education in schools. Indeed, if the progressive parties in Scotland are serious about mental health, this is a proposal they should, at least, be considering.
Hopefully, with effective campaigning and increased awareness, we’ll see integrated mental health education in our schools in the near future.
If not, we risk the current mental health crisis continuing to damage the lives of young people up and down the country.
Picture courtesy of ryan melaugh