Our children’s mental health has reached crisis point. Mental health problems are happening right now in our schools and affecting too many of our youth.
• 75% of mental illnesses start before the age of 18. (MQ Manifesto for young people’s mental health 2016)
• Three children in every UK classroom are affected by mental illness. (Department of Education; Mental Health and Behaviour in Schools Report, March 2016)
• On average, it can take TEN YEARS to get help after the first symptoms of mental illness begin to develop. (MQ Manifesto for young people’s mental health 2016)
Until now, mental health was only taught as an optional component of the non-statutory subject, “Personal, Social, Health and Economic Education” (PSHE) – but this wasn’t enough. It needs to be compulsory to ensure consistency in delivery, and this is what we have been fighting for. Understanding mental health is an absolute life skill and should be just as fundamental within the school curriculum as learning to read and write. There needs to be a compulsory collaboration and integration between mental health education and physical education, so that children and young people can learn to understand that maintaining good mental health is equally vital to their wellbeing.
Mental health education is the only way in which we can effectively tackle stigma and relieve the enormous pressure on teachers, a stretched school curriculum, mental health services, the NHS and CAMHS, which will prove to be hugely advantageous for the UK economy in the decades to come. Providing the next generation with knowledge and understanding of mental illness will also aid us massively in normalising mental health conditions, eliminating stigma and encouraging open and honest conversations.
The UK national curriculum puts a lot of emphasis on teaching our children about how our bodies work, physical illnesses, and how exercise and nutrition can keep us healthy. These are taught in mandatory subjects such as physical education (PE) and biology.
Mental health education was being taught inconsistently in the UK, and only in secondary schools, despite one in five children experiencing a mental health difficulty before the age of 11.
Mental health education was only delivered during PSHE lessons, or sometimes during school assembly or drama lessons.
We believe that the system was failing our children by not providing the adequate and compulsory education on mental health at an earlier age. This means that mental health education is all too often overlooked or dropped altogether. Simply put, we weren’t equipping our children with the knowledge and skills to understand something that affects one in ten of them.
We firmly believe that we should start educating our children on mental health as early as possible. It should be compulsory within both primary and secondary schools, and be taught at an age appropriate level depending on which key stage the pupils are in.
Mental health education in the UK needed the urgent reform that it is now getting. Without this, the alarming numbers of children and young people suffering from mental health issues will continue to increase.
Compulsory mental health education in all schools will enable pupils of any age to develop the knowledge and understanding needed to seek help, if required, for themselves, their friends and family.
Having a platform to enable pupils to talk openly about mental health issues will help towards eliminating stigma, and facilitate discussion on specific issues affecting children and young people’s mental health; bullying and social media pressures, for example, often lead to high numbers of self-harm and suicide.