By Alfie Hughes (work experience student from Longsands Academy)

We already know that a big problem in schools, particularly secondary schools, is the poor mental health of students. Students are not taught any information about their mental wellbeing within school unless the school makes a special effort. This leads to poor awareness, which in turn leads to all sorts of problems. Not only do we not know about how to understand mental wellbeing, but as a result we might not ask for help when we need it. Centre for Mental Health found that on average, a young person with a mental health issue can wait up to ten years before getting the help that they need.

One reason I believe young people should be educated on their mental health at school is that it will help them to open up about any difficulties they may be having. Despite what the papers might say about young people being ‘snowflakes’, it’s not true: we still don’t open up easily and we already deal with a lot without support. Stigma still exists and you don’t often hear young people sitting around talking about their feelings; my peers don’t anyway. Having a senior figure such as a teacher speaking to us about mental health would give us the confidence to speak about it to someone they trust. It would also give teachers knowledge on how to spot the signs of a mental health issue and ask if things are OK. It is important that the whole school, from the head teacher down, value mental wellbeing as it affects all aspects of school life and creates a good environment in which students feel comfortable. The government are planning on training more teachers and providing mental health teams for schools, and this is a good thing. I just hope it doesn’t take too long.

Despite what the papers might say about young people being ‘snowflakes’, it’s not true: we still don’t open up easily and we already deal with a lot without support

Students also face a lot of pressure from exams, and the stress that comes with them can be very damaging for young people. Students are told that exams will decide their future, but are not equipped with the tools to cope with the huge amount of stress which bears down on them.

Without being taught the realities of mental health difficulties, children won’t understand the impact that ‘banter’ (whether it be insults, bullying or spreading of lies and rumours) could have. The only way this will change is if we educate them, just like physical health is taught; a compulsory lesson taught within our schools would make all the difference. To know about mental health is a life skill and could help young people get help when they need it or prevent this from getting any worse.

Students are told that exams will decide their future, but are not equipped with the tools to cope with the huge amount of stress which bears down on them.

Physical health (P.E) was made compulsory in schools over one hundred years ago, and is deemed to be one of the most important things a child can learn about in school. It covers the importance of eating healthily, staying fit, etc. All of this ties in to mental health as well, yet it is not taught nor even touched upon whatsoever at school. It doesn’t make sense to me. Although there has begun to be an emphasis on schools providing mental health support, it is often only given to children who directly ask for it. Schools need to start recognising mental health to be just as important as physical health, and this starts with making mental health education a compulsory part of the school curriculum. I have learned during my work experience week here at the Centre that this is called parity of esteem.