The recent Children's Commissioner report into vulnerability shows 800,000 children in England aged between 5 and 17 are experiencing mental health issues.
The facts are shocking. There is a pervading sense that young people nowadays have it harder than previous generations- greater academic pressures, constant social media scrutiny/competition, the economic reality of post-Brexit Britain beginning to filter down... But are we looking back with rose-tinted glasses on our idyllic childhoods and making unfavourable comparisons? Perhaps the 80s and 90s of my childhood were a more innocent time in some ways. After all, ignorance is bliss! How many of us were were struggling in silence, lacking the language to say how we were feeling?
The BBC reports that five secondary schools in Cardiff have taken part in a pilot study by Samaritans Cymru teaching mental health lessons. Afterwards students reported having a better awareness of mental health, and Samaritans propose that these lessons should be mandatory.
My school days are not that far behind me. I don't recall mental health ever being discussed in my lessons. Had the curriculum covered mental health or wellbeing I may have known what to say when a friend was off school for a while with depression. Perhaps I would have had more compassion for myself when I struggled during sixth form and put this down to a mysterious chronic fatigue-type condition which with hindsight I believe was, at least partly, caused by depression.
Research by in-school children’s mental health charity Place2Be, showed that of children who received individual counselling:
There are a number of charities doing great work to promote discussion about young people’s mental health and wellbeing, and providing essential support where schools are falling short. Young Minds campaigns to raise awareness and works with policy makers in the UK. They also provide practical support and expertise for young people, their parents and professionals. The Mix (formerly Get Connected) offers online support, a helpline, and telephone counselling to anyone under 25.
Encouraging school students and teachers to talk about mental health can only be a good thing. Providing therapy and emotional support to our young people and keeping an open dialogue about how we are all feeling is essential. The more we talk about it, the more we understand ourselves and each other. We can start to take better care of ourselves, prioritising our mental health as much as our physical health.