Mental Health Day is not enough - schools need a consistent focus
Anyone who watched Lauren Stocks’ now-viral address to the Labour Party Conference a few weeks ago will have had a glimpse into the reality of mental health in the classroom today.
Initiatives like Lauren’s excellent speech and World Mental Health Day play their part in raising our awareness. Not enough of us realise that 20% of adolescents experience a mental health problem in any given year, or that 10% of children aged 5 – 16 have a clinically diagnosable mental health issue (yet 70% have not had medical interventions at an appropriately early age). Add this to the stress faced by today’s children through social media, peer pressure, job uncertainty, an ever-increasing workload and ever-moving goalposts, and it’s no wonder that classrooms are starting to resemble ‘battlefields’, as Lauren Stocks puts it.
You’ve probably seen the effects of this in your classroom: whether it takes the form of students being too anxious to attend lessons, or even school in some cases, or whether it’s students self-harming in order to relieve the stress, there are signs of students struggling to cope in almost every classroom. Something has to change here: according to the Office for National Statistics, in 2015, more than four children committed suicide in the UK every single week.
Just in case you missed that:
In 2015, more than four children committed suicide in the UK every single week.
While most schools are doing their best to provide as much mental health support as they can, the disturbing truth is that many schools are also chronically underfunded and under-resourced, to the point that their best efforts to help are still inadequate for the scale of the problem. As teachers, we can’t turn the whole education system around on our own (magic money tree, anyone?), but we can take steps to make our classrooms more humane, and one way to do that is to make sure we are having dialogue about these issues with our students. The importance of this can’t be stated enough, especially since it’s - shockingly - not legally compulsory to cover mental health issues as part of PSHE.
Discussing these issues; giving students the vocabulary which they need around this topic; reminding boys that they can talk about their feelings too; normalising mental health concerns; sharing your own experiences if appropriate – all of these can help. Getting mental health on the PSHE timetable should be a priority on a whole school level. The alternative? A rising rate of child suicide, and a generation of young adults too ill to enjoy the benefits that their hyper-intense education was supposed to guarantee them.
So many children are failed by our current mental health provision. Let’s make the change that Lauren Stocks reminds us we need to see in the classroom and beyond.
Not sure where to start with introducing mental health lessons into your school? Download our free fully-resourcedIntroduction to Mental Health and Depression lesson, or if you're ready to introduce some mental health PSHE lessons, check out this Tes Recommended Mental Health Resource Pack