Mental health takeover: It’s never too early to talk about mental health
- Credit: Copyright: Archant 2017
Today, we know that eight in 10 children going to their school nurse with stomach pains are experiencing anxiety. Back in 1991, when I first started having panic attacks, the condition was relatively unheard of. In fact, I was given an inhaler because my GP assumed my difficulties breathing were due to asthma.
By the time I went to university, my anxiety had reached such chronic levels I had developed bulimia as a (very counterproductive) coping strategy. After I recovered with the help of therapy, I started to reflect on my mental health education.
At school, we had assemblies which tried to shock us with extreme testimonials of depression, eating disorders and drug addiction. They were interesting and important stories, but not something we ever applied to ourselves. In 2007, I interviewed hundreds of teenagers and was shocked when they told me there were still the same problems with PHSE (personal, health and social education).
Most children are told at an early age about the importance of healthy eating and exercise. Later, they're warned about things which might do their bodies' harm, like smoking. We acknowledge that physical wellbeing is something relevant to everyone - Mental health shouldn't be any different. Mental illness is only part of the conversation, in the same way that learning about symptoms of diabetes or cancer is only part of physical health education.
That's why I've been visiting schools throughout Britain for the past decade addressing topics young people told me they wanted guidance on like bdy image, social media and healthy coping with stress.
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As well as PHSE, schools would ideally have a counsellor and staff trained in mental health first aid. Some schools have also introduced a daily jog (physical activity is great for mental wellbeing), 'screen free days' to give pupils a break from technology, 'chill out zones' where pupils can go if they feel overwhelmed and even a school pet (animals are scientifically proven to improve your state of mind).
Schools shouldn't be expected to plug the gaps in funding or services, but they are a place where, with the right resources, mental health can be nurtured and discussed.
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To find out more about Natasha's work in schools visit www.natashadevon.com