National Comment Comment

Schools need proper health education

Its inclusion within the curriculum could be instrumental in tackling the wider issue of mental health

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It is quite a well-known fact that acceptance and education are closely linked. Despite this not being a revolutionary statement, it is nevertheless an important principle which is too often ignored in the battle to make our world a happier, safer place. The need for education and the good it can do is clearly applicable to, among others, the mental health issues that affect many people across the country.

In 2018, the government announced that starting in September 2020 schools in England will have to teach pupils about how to monitor and maintain good mental and physical health. This is welcome news, and the need to make sure these plans are followed through is an essential part of The ongoing discussion of what our education system should look like. In 2016, a survey reported that 20.6 percent of people in the UK have had suicidal thoughts and in a given year one in four people will experience a mental health issue. There has been a real push in the last couple of years on social media and from various charities to raise awareness of, and reduce the stigma surrounding, mental illness, particularly in young men.

As terrific as this is, it should surely not be necessary for young people to mobilize en masse through Facebook and the like to have the difficulties of mentalillness recognised . This should be something we are all aware of, whether it directly affects us or not. The point of education is to equip us with skills and knowledge that will make our lives easier. By educating people about what mental illness is, how it works, and how to deal with it, we equip the next generation with the ability to look after themselves and others with real compassion.

Much of the problem posed by mental illness is the stigma surrounding it; it seems frustratingly obvious to me that something is going to have a stigma attached to it if it is not spoken about openly and honestly. If people do not know something exists or how to deal with it, then their reaction is bound to be less appropriate. A teenager is far less likely to tell someone suffering with depression to just "cheer up" if they know how depression works. School education is vital in shaping how we react to others. To be clear, I do not think that our school system actively discourages learning about mental health or attempts to increase the stigma surrounding it. In fact, schools and in particular teachers can provide a valuable lifeline for young people suffering from a mental health problem.

Nevertheless, I cannot help but think that if I was taught about mental illness in my time at school, I would perhaps have been able to deal with it better when I have encountered it. I count myself as fortunate not to have experienced any serious mental health issues in my lifetime, but it has still affected me. I have lived with a parent suffering from mental illness for the majority of my life. Looking back, I think I would have dealt with this much better if I was properly informed about how to help someone suffering with depression and anxiety. Much of it is just understanding; when I felt they were being unreasonable, I was often failing to see how difficult life sometimes was for them. It was only when I started to experience some similar tendencies myself that I began to have more sympathy. I am incredibly fortunate that in any mental health problems I have encountered, I have had supportive people around me.

However, I think I could have dealt with my problems better myself if I had been properly educated about how to cope with anxiety. Throughout sixth form and my early life at university, I found myself falling into a pattern of minor self-harm as a way of dealing with my problems. If I was properly taught about coping mechanisms, and being open about mental health, I may not have developed such an unhealthy tendency.

In schools up and down the country we are taught about paying attention to our physical health. We are told of the dangers of alcohol, smoking and fatty foods; we are taught to check ourselves for lumps; we are, quite rightly, taught about how to keep ourselves safe and healthy, because that education could, one day, save a life. Properly understanding and being more equipped to spot and deal with anxiety, depression and other mental illnesses, in yourself or others, could ultimately save a life too.

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