Using the classroom to combat mental health stigma

This article originally appeared on my blog unwillingadult.wordpress.com

The fact it’s 2016 and we still have to talk about how there is such a strong stigma surrounding mental health is really disheartening. However we mustn’t give up hope, we mustn’t stop campaigning to put an end to it.

I think one of the main issues is that it’s just not properly taught in school, I know in my school for instance, that it just wasn’t taught at all. Not directly anyway. There would be people who’d come in with leaflets & encourage us to visit them, but unless we have an incentive to visit then people are missing out. Why would I visit a service for more information if I didn’t think it applied to me or people I’m close to?

We need to address mental health issues in the classroom, perhaps from as soon as they start high school, especially with the mental health issues that can occur as a result of school stresses, bullying, puberty and such. We need to educate what the warning signs are, what we should do, how we can help others, the different services that can support us. We need to teach our children the statistics, no matter how shocking, they need to know the suicide rates, they need to know just how serious an issue it is. They need information on different mental health issues, they don’t need to become experts in the subject, but a basic understanding would still go a long way in helping people. It could just trigger something in someone’s head that they need to seek help, or need to encourage someone else to seek help.

As shocking as it may be to some people, we need to teach people why self harm, and suicide jokes aren’t acceptable. What an impact they can have on people. We need to encourage people to talk about their feelings, and be open and honest. To encourage them to seek help when they aren’t feeling good. We can do that with sicknesses, and injuries, but why can’t we do that for mental health issues?

Why aren’t schools more supportive of those who are suffering from depression or anxiety, and find day to day school life hard? Why isn’t there more options to make the education system work for our children? We shouldn’t make our children fit into a rigid idea of a good student, we should instead mold the education system around each child’s individual needs to ensure that they can receive a decent education, and that they aren’t leaving school with the trauma of an awful school experience.

We need to encourage our primary school children to discuss their feelings, and if they are having a hard time. By hammering it in that it is good to talk about our feelings, to be open and honest, and to seek help at a young age. We can encourage them to keep that up for the rest of their lives, so that when bigger issues happen, such as a family member’s death, they know they have a huge support network they can rely on, instead of furthering themselves into a depressive state due to feeling isolated.

There’s such a stigma that people can only be depressed if really bad things are happening, that people can’t become depressed due to day to day struggles, that someone from a wealthy family, or who is doing good at school can’t be depressed. This needs to stop, we need to stop invalidating people’s feelings. By encouraging people to be open and honest we can catch the warning signs before it’s too late, if we can see someone slipping into a depressive slump we can help them, instead of noticing when they’re at the end of their rope and desperate.

Why can’t schools have meetings with pupils on a semi-regular basis to discuss with them for even a short while how they are doing, what their struggles or worries are? Remind them of different services they can reach out to? That it’s okay to have mental health issues, but that it’s important that we combat it?

By educating our children to be more open, to feel like their feelings are valid, and that their issues aren’t silly, we can encourage this way of thinking through the rest of their lives, and that can make a big difference. By ensuring kids feel safe and like they have someone to talk to we can reduce the rate of child suicides.

So yes, we need to talk about mental health with our children, because the fact people are going undiagnosed for years, or committing suicide, or feeling ashamed, or bullied because of their mental health issue is a disgrace.

Make the effort to allow your family members and friends feel safe and comfortable to talk to you, encourage them to be open and honest. Notice the warning signs, and offer help. Be open and honest about your own feelings, even if it’s scary at first. We shouldn’t be ashamed because we’re having a bad day, or that we had a breakdown over something silly like spilling a drink because everything was just getting too much and that was the last straw.

Let’s talk about mental health. Let’s combat the stigma.

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I am a nineteen year old from Scotland, who is currently doing a Creative and Digital Modern Apprentice, and during my spare time I like to blog. If you enjoyed this be sure to check out my blog, unwillingadult.wordpress.com