Mental Health and Education

“3. Pupils should be taught:
a. what makes a healthy lifestyle, including the benefits of exercise and healthy eating, what affects mental health, and how to make informed choices”                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                  The DFE Website, August 2013

I thought I’d discuss why I think mental health needs a more prominent role in our schools’ curriculum. The reference above is for what pupils in Key Stage 2 (Years 3-6, ages 7-11) should be taught in PSHE. It is only a small part of the PSHE curriculum, which is currently a non-statutory requirement in our schools. It is also the only reference, I can see, to mental health. To me this seems inadequate.

We teach our children about how to stay healthy physically, which is important, but we fail to do the same with regards to mental health. Mental Health now has the same standing as physical health in a medical environment and this, I believe, should be shown in our schools’ curriculum. PSHE doesn’t have to be taught in schools, though the majority do so, and therefore mental health and well being does not have to be. Physical health is also covered in science and so can not be neglected in the same way.

The reasons I feel it would be beneficial to start teaching children about mental health earlier comes from the statistics about children and young people with a mental health problem. 1 in 10 young people aged 5 – 16 will suffer from a diagnosable mental health disorder (Young Minds Website, August 2013). Surely this shows that it is important that we educate our children to not only look after their own mental health but to understand and not stigmatise those of their peers who suffer from a mental health disorder. Over 8000 children, under 10, suffer from severe depression (Young Minds Website, August 2013). Surely this shows again how important it is to make children aware of how to look after their mental health.

Education is an important weapon in tackling stigma. If we made children aware from an early age that mental health problems are not something to be ashamed of and promoted talking about them in the same way we do other physical illnesses, surely we could start to fight back against the stigma of having a mental health disorder. Talking about mental health is the biggest weapon we have to fight stigma and starting those conversations earlier, i believe, could help us to get ahead in the battle.

I know that some people will read this and think that primary school is too young to discuss this with them but I think unless we do introduce the conversations this early, it will be to late for those children suffering already by the time they are 10. Primary age children will also come into contact with mental illness  before the conversations are started either by suffering themselves or through seeing a family member with a mental health disorder. By discussing mental health in schools we will begin to give children the tools they need to deal with what they are experiencing earlier.

For me it seems like a simple solution. Make PSHE and mental health awareness a statutory requirement of the primary curriculum.

References:

http://www.education.gov.uk/schools/teachingandlearning/curriculum/primary/b00199209/pshe/ks2 -Accessed August 2013

http://www.youngminds.org.uk/training_services/policy/mental_health_statistics -Accessed August 2013

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