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Friday 23rd February 2018
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24th July 2016
Congratulations to The Sixth Form College Farnborough in Hampshire ...
25th March 2016
Congratulations to The Beacon PRU in Redditch, Worcestershire ...
25th March 2016
Congratulations to Lordswood Girls' School in Harborne, Birmingham ...
25th March 2016
Congratulations to Cedars Upper School in Leighton Buzzard, Bedfordshire ...
It has been thirteen years since I left school at the age of eighteen. I believe that things have moved on in schools since then, and that mental health is discussed and addressed more widely now than it was back then. However, I also believe that there is a lot more that schools can do to educate their students on the importance of good mental health. When asked, I would imagine that most school kids would associate 'health' with their physical well being. They are taught how to eat well in order to ward off illnesses such as colds, flu and tummy bugs. The importance of personal hygiene, taking vitamins, choosing healthy alternatives to chocolate and crisps for snacks are all drummed into kids from an early age...and that is wonderful. These issues are important.
However, I still believe that mental health seems to take a back seat. Whilst at school, I never once attended a class that emphasised how vital it is to keep your mental well being in check. In fact, mental health was a taboo subject. If a teacher even mentioned it, there would be the inevitable tittering at the back of the class...followed by the obligatory 'jokes' about 'schizos', 'loopers', padded cells and strait jackets. So...it's easy to understand why a child would be put off from seeking help or opening up about an issue they may have.
My personal issue was Anorexia Nervosa. My friends knew I had an eating disorder. The teachers could plainly see that I was suffering. Only once, in my six years at that secondary school did one teacher, very quietly (so as not to shame me by broaching the subject, I assume), ask me if I was 'looking after myself'. No direct reference to the fact that I was extremely emaciated, ghastly pale, lethargic, withdrawn, freezing all the time, etcetera. I can only assume that, because my grades were always very good, they didn't see it as an issue. Their work was being done....homework was being submitted and examinations were passed with flying colours. Boxes ticked. The fact that I was very obviously starving myself and very unhappy wasn't such a concern. Besides...they had a curriculum to cover...and mental health well being was not on that curriculum.
To be frank, this suited me just fine. I didn't want any interference at that time. Any enquiries about my eating habits or weight were seen as an intrusion. I just wanted to be left alone to get on with what I considered to be very important...and in fact, necessary at the time. I needed the control. There were a lot of things in my life during those years over which I had no control. The only things I could really control were; A - my food intake and my weight, and B- my grades. Whilst this suited me fine.....it really did not help me. Who knows how many wasted years of illness could have been redeemed, had mental health issues been a subject which was discussed openly, frankly and without shame?
Personally, I think the subject of mental health and mental illness should be introduced to kids as soon as they are old enough to learn about their physical health. Targeted to each age group, and talked about in an open and casual manner could make it much easier for them to deal with the issue later on in life. The importance of recognising feelings, emotions, worries, sleep issues, body image, how to manage stress, learning to relax the mind, knowing when they may need to talk to somebody....these are issues that even young children can comprehend. More in depth details about mental health illnesses can then be introduced to older classes...again, discussed in a frank, open and casual manner. I believe that in doing this, teachers can help erase the stigma around mental health. Assuring kids that there is nothing to be ashamed of should they feel sad, depressed, worried or stressed. How to deal with these emotions. Emphasising the importance of talking about issues, as opposed to keeping it to themselves; encouraging children to keep journals to note feelings and emotions. A simple exercise, but one that can be of great benefit in teaching kids how to get in touch with their emotions and perhaps making it easier for them to share them.
From a personal point of view, I feel that body image and eating disorders are issues that should be dealt with from a young age. There are reports of children as young as seven being admitted to eating disorder clinics. It is said that eating disorders in young people are on the increase. Personally, I wonder if it is more to do with the fact that eating disorders are now being diagnosed more readily. One big issue that I feel should be addressed with kids is the many different eating disorders that can affect one's life. In this age of sensationalism in the media, it is not surprising that many people consider anorexia to be the 'worst' and, in some cases the only eating disorder. That there is a certain 'look' to an eating disorder. Typically, a young, white female. Emaciated, with a deathly pallor, an N-G tube, hair falling out in tufts...possibly confined to a bed. This is a dangerous myth. Children need to know that anybody can suffer from an eating disorder. They are not confined to race, sex, age, body shape or personality. Bulimia Nervosa, Binge Eating Disorder (B.E.D), Eating Disorder Not Otherwise Specified (EDNOS), are other examples which, unfortunately are not given as much publicity or awareness. Kids need to know that the man or lady that looks perfectly healthy and fit on the outside can indeed, be suffering as much as the girl who is confined to the bed being fed by a naso-gastric tube.
In conclusion, I would really love to see the subject of mental health and illness becoming a subject in all schools from an early age. Whilst these issues are being brushed under the carpet and joked about, the stigma will stick. Kids aren't born to be ashamed of their emotional difficulties...it is a learned practice. Mental well being is every bit as important as physical health....and it is time that schools recognised this.