We are facing an epidemic in mental illness amongst young people. The reasons behind this are vague, vast and complex, yet there are two key issues that stand out when approaching this intensifying crisis: delayed diagnosis and intervention, and the ever-present stigma surrounding mental ill health.
The government made a move laced with potential transformative power in November as they announced a £300m investment in mental health services in schools, which includes additional pastoral support and improved links to local NHS teams. However, charities including Young Minds have already highlighted faults in this development, revealing that the implementation of mental health leads in schools and colleges will not be complete until 2025. Clearly, the system has a way to go, and the news is constantly saturated with tragic tales of mental health failings, yet we are undoubtedly headed in the right direction.
“We are failing to educate our children about mental health and illness”
However, a key area is being neglected: we are failing to educate our children about mental health and illness, continuing instead to prioritise physical fitness whilst neglecting psychological well-being. In doing so – in ignoring an issue which seems to be worsening day by day – we are merely feeding the ever-present stigma.
“An inability to identify symptoms in yourself or your peers contributes to delayed intervention”
Lack of understanding fosters fear, and we harbour this fear when we don’t have the knowledge to challenge it. It is widely recognised that half of mental health problems begin before the age of 14, yet at this age the majority of young people have received little, if any, education in the area. To experience symptoms of depression, or anxiety, or an eating disorder, but have no comprehension as to what you are suffering from, is only likely to worsen pre-existing distress. An inability to identify symptoms in yourself or your peers contributes to delayed intervention, and thus a viscous cycle is perpetuated.
The most effective, and arguably the only, way to break this cycle is to introduce compulsory education about mental health for all children in all schools everywhere.
It’s a sign of a broken system when adolescents are still being taught how to put a condom on a banana but not how to look after their own minds. The most common argument against the growing mental health epidemic is that the youth of this country are becoming less and less resilient to the pressures of modern life – but how can we expect them to develop resilience if we are not willing to teach it?
Children should be made aware of how the brain can turn against itself, in the same way a bone can break or the immune system can let in the flu. Perhaps then, they won’t feel shame when they cry for no obvious reason. Perhaps then, they won’t feel embarrassed when they are overcome with such panic that their lungs won’t let any air in. Perhaps then, they won’t feel confusion when a voice instructs them to not eat lunch. Perhaps then, they’ll ask for help sooner, and we can help them sooner, and this perpetual cycle of suffering can be halted.
If you or someone you know is in need of advice on mental health, be sure to check out the UoN website for more information.
Featured image courtesy of ‘Kevin Simmons’ via Flickr. Image licence found here.