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writers call to action

Is Mental Health Education the key to ending Stigma?

I still feel there is a negative stigma attached to mental health and I am starting to think, is that because we are not educated about it from a young age. My first experience of mental health was anxiety after a bad break up with a boyfriend when I was 20, it was scary and I didn’t really know how to deal with it. Ever since it has been a part of my life and I have learnt to deal with it in my own way (kind of just ignore that it is there).

I think that mental health should be taught in schools and children of all ages should learn about it and how to cope or help a friend that may be struggling. Potentially this could be lifesaving in the long run.

NHS figures show a rise in mental ill health and that in 2017, 1 in 8 people under the age of 19 suffered with mental illness. School is a time that can either be the best days of your life or the worst. I was never bullied at school but I do remember the odd few remarks that people made, one boy implied I was ‘fat’ when I was about 8 and I can still remember that like it was yesterday.

At secondary school I was never good at doing presentations in front of the class, I would get embarrassed and everyone would laugh, so now I dread having to do public speaking. I really want to train to be a counsellor but I know that public speaking will be a part of the training so it puts me off. These were not massive remarks but to me have affected my confidence and the way I feel about myself and my body.

Bullying is always going to happen at school, kids can be mean to each other for many reasons but to be on the receiving end of bullying can be life threatening. With the rise of social media, and the most active age range to be of the ages of 11-19 (NHS Figures), cyberbullying is on the rise and young people don’t get to switch off anymore.

When I was younger we went to school, came home, talked to friends on MSN and Bebo before dinner and that was it until the next day. Nowadays Facebook, Twitter and Instagram is constant, it’s on your phone, on your tablet, on your computer and constantly on your mind, so how do you switch off? The people doing the bullying may not know the lasting affect that their actions can have on the victim, they may think it’s a laugh but without the right support it can have a major effect on the victim’s mental health.

Speaking out and asking for help is a massive step, I have been suffering with depression for the last few months and it has been a lonely and dark journey. It took me far too long to open up to my family and ask for help, luckily I do have a loving and caring family but when you are down you don’t want to burden loved ones so think keeping it to yourself is the best idea.

I was keeping the depression hidden and that was giving it more power over me, I would try and act ‘happy’ and pretend I was ‘fine’ around people but inside I was crying. I didn’t know how to go about reaching out, mental health was never really mentioned or spoken about when I was younger. If a child was acting out or misbehaving they were punished and not listened to instead of listened to and helped.

I sought therapy a year after a bad car crash I was involved in. I had started driving again after a break for a few years, I got a new job and had been driving a week when another driver decided to pull out in front of me across a dual carriageway when I was driving 65mph.

It really turned my life upside down, the trauma had a massive impact on my daily life and I completely lost my confidence, I lost the job and I don’t drive anymore. I feel that I didn’t deal with the trauma at the time so that has triggered the black dog (depression) entering my life.

I am not one to talk about my feelings and emotions so I do struggle with the therapy, luckily my counsellor at the time was patient and empathetic so has been the support I needed when battling the black dog.

What she has shown me is the strength and encouragement that I needed to know that I am stronger than this and I am capable of achieving my goal of becoming a counsellor. In some ways I think she saved my life, she was the one to open my eyes and say to me ‘You are tired because you are depressed’ at the time I felt shocked but in time I accepted the fact I needed help. If society was a more open and accepting place around mental health, I feel I would have opened up sooner, I was terrified of the judgement I would get from people. She showed me that I do have a voice when I felt the black dog silenced me and how powerful it can be to use it.

If people aren’t educated then we can’t really blame them, before all this and if I never had an experience with mental health, maybe I would be a judgemental person. I can only share my experiences. I have learnt from therapy what I know now, I have read books by Irvin Yalom which have been inspiring and my favourite book called ‘The Choice’ by Edith Egerwhich has taught me negative experiences do not have to control your life.

My interest in wanting to reach out and help other people has come from the help I have received professionally and from family and friends, the support network you have around you is so important during this dark time.

Mental health can be an invisible illness and people of all ages are afraid to open up about it because of the negative stigma attached to it, students have the pressure from their peers to fit in which can add stress. If students don’t have a family member or friend to speak to about their worries or don’t feel comfortable talking to them, where do they turn? Having a professional at school who can offer a safe and non-judgemental environment where children can share their thoughts and emotions could lead to better coping mechanisms for any future mental health problems.

Being young and having to deal with ‘growing up’ can be challenging without support, you are going through physical changes but what about the mental challenges, do they just go ignored.

The Mental Health Foundation Charity are petitioning for children to be educated about mental health at school, they say that 50% of mental health problems are established by the age of 14 and 75% by the age of 24, with these figures in mind I think it is so important we teach the younger generation how to manage their mental health. I do understand this will all need to be funded and will cost money from the government to provide this but with the current rise in people experiencing the challenges of mental health, can you really put a price on the emotional wellbeing of the younger generation?

Author's Bio


In Sophie's words: "I don’t take life too seriously, always joking and making people laugh! Family and friends mean the world to me, and my little cat tiggs! Music is my life, I spend most of time with my headphones on listening to anything and everything, I believe ‘When words fail music speaks’! I am more creative than anything I love writing and knowing that hopefully writing my struggles can help other people is just the best feeling ever! I cannot wait for the future so I can train to be a counsellor and hopefully help someone the way my counsellor has helped me!"

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