Make tiny changes: Mental health
Scotland is currently experiencing a mental health crisis with figures depicting an increase in suicide amongst young people. In a bid to tackle the issue head on, whilst promoting mental health awareness, is it time mental health education was on the curriculum?
During the Year of Young People there have been many celebrations and calls to action to help improve the lives of young Scots. One of the most prominent messages has been to improve mental health education for young people; and, in turn, promoting advanced mental health training for teachers.
“With more young people struggling with their mental health we thought it was the right time to launch a campaign that focused on prevention,” explains Toni Giugliano, policy and public affairs manager for the Mental Health Foundation.
“The backdrop is the increase in the number of young people who are seeking specialist support – in the last three years alone there has been a 20 per cent increase in the number of children who have had to seek Child and Adolescent Mental Health Service (CAMHS) appointments.”
One way to help reduce figures of young people reaching crisis point is through education. Figures from the Mental Health Foundation, a charity who has been working to prevent mental ill health for over seventy years, showed that many young people don’t understand what mental health entails.
Toni explains: “A lot of young people don’t actually understand what mental health is. Some do, some really don’t, and some refer to it as a virus that you can catch. We’ve had responses including: ‘I hope I never catch mental health,’ because the reality is that mental health is still seen as severe, acute, and irrecoverable.
“Our focus groups found that young people are completely oblivious that you can prevent mental ill health.”
Growing up in this day and age can be challenging. Social media means young people are continually switched on, comparing themselves to their peers or celebrities, all whilst managing growing up and doing well in their studies: it is no great surprise the current mental health crisis we find ourselves in.
Keen to see a change in the number of young people reaching crisis point, and reduce levels of suicide, the Scottish Government has backed the Mental Health Foundations campaign to reduce death by suicide by 20 per cent for 2022.
Toni says: “We will do that through a number of means, and one of them will be looking at young people’s mental health. We’re campaigning strongly for training for health staff and security staff and for training to be made available”
Teachers already have a heavy work load, and Toni stresses that the new Make it Count campaign is not calling for teachers to become mental health professionals, rather providing background information to recognise when a student is struggling and how to signpost.
Additional training is a vital tool that teachers have been calling for. A survey of 3,000 teachers from Scottish Association for Mental Health (SAMH) showed that more than two-thirds of teachers did not feel they have received sufficient training in mental health. And Toni agrees.
“Teachers tell us that they’re walking on egg shells and they don’t know how to approach the issue. Teachers themselves tell us that they want more training to identify when a problem exists and even to have a simple conversation with a young person,” he adds.
MAKE IT COUNT
In a drive for change, Make it Count aims to improve knowledge, and, importantly, help reduce stigma.
“There is no one action in place that will solve the problem, and you’ll find that is the case with mental health: there is no one single action that you can take, there is a whole host of
different measures in place,” explains Toni. Firstly, helping students to understand mental health.
More and more schoolchildren are struggling to cope with their mental health.
— Mental Health Fdn (@mentalhealth) October 21, 2018
Make it Count is calling for teachers to be upskilled in mental health training; ensuring schools across Scotland has a trained mental health professional to refer students to; measuring wellbeing in the same way as literacy and numeracy; getting mental health taught within PSE classes; and, encouraging peer to peer support.
“We’re not reinventing the wheel. It’s all about picking up issues early, opposed to waiting until a crisis occurs,” adds Toni.
Getting young people to talk about their feelings can be a challenging task. However, building a level of trust is the first step to opening up a dialogue. One way that this can be
achieved is through educating young people to share their knowledge with their peers.
Improving mental health education within PSE classes is an integral step to overcoming the current mental health crisis in Scotland. Death by suicide is the highest cause of death in young people under the age of 35, education is the first step to reducing figures.
“Our message is to talk about your feelings. Men complete suicide at a higher level than women, so talking about your feelings is important. Don’t be afraid to reach out to anybody. If you don’t want to reach out to people you know then go to Samaritans, Breathing Space, and have an anonymous chat with someone about how you feel,” encourages Toni.
“The last thing you want to do is bottle it up and not talk about it. Talking about it really is the most powerful thing that you can do. The stigma of mental health is reducing and more
people are aware that we’re all human, we’re not robots, we have difficult lives and the best way to get rid of our anxieties and our stresses is to discuss those feelings and those problems in life and find ways around those problems. There is always a way out; there is always an alternative.”
Bringing mental health education into schools will help students and teachers understand mental health and wellbeing, and will have a far reaching impact on the wider community.
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