Farron asks Gove to put mental health on the school curriculum

Last Friday a new charity, providing online counselling to teenagers with mental health issues, launched in London. Mindfull, run by the team behind BeatBullying, built the service after feedback young people themselves. We’re talking about a third of our young people either self-harming or contemplating suicide because they are feeling so bad. The case stories in the report give some idea of how that feels:

Jessica was 14 when she started to feel very down. She didn’t tell anyone about the way she was feeling until she was 15, and even though she started to have suicidal thoughts it took her six months before she was able to talk to her mum and get help.
“People don’t understand the effect that depression has on you – I hate it when people dismiss it as simply teenage angst. Some days I feel so low it can be a struggle to do things that I normally love, like reading and writing. We desperately need more education about mental health issues so young people can spot the signs early.”

It’s horrible to think that young people like Jessica suffer horrendous problems for a long time before they even think about talking to their parents about it. Some, even if they tried to explain how they felt, just wouldn’t be able to articulate it verbally, although they would be able to write it down. The way I see it, this new service could provide a lifeline for them.

Here in Scotland, I’ve been aware of situations where teens with mental health issues can wait 9 months and more for treatment. That’s almost a whole school year before the treatment even starts. The situation in England is improving and we know that Health Minister Norman Lamb is putting £54 million into specifically improving access to services for young people.

Mindfull say in their report that more should be done in schools to educate and support around mental health issues:

The survey also reinforces the need for more information and training in schools. Nearly two thirds of young people believe adding information on mental health to the national curriculum and training teachers would be effective ways to tackle the problem.

MindFull is calling for mental health to be embedded as a core theme in the national curriculum and for schools to provide access to counselling and mentor support for all young people who need it.
I was very pleased to see that Tim Farron has taken this up and has written to Michael Gove to ask him to implement Mindfull’s recommendations. Tim said:
This really is a major issue that politicians have ducked for many years.  The results of this report have actually shocked me.  I will be writing to Michael Gove and asking him to make sure mental health issues are put into the curriculum and that the government acts to deal with this issue.  Children in Cumbria and throughout the UK need to be supported and I think mental health should treated as the same level as physical health.
The advantage of our lot being in Government is that they can get things done, and quickly. Nick Clegg is already on board with improving services for young people and I would be surprised if he wasn’t pushing hard for information and support to be available in schools. Maybe someone might ring him on Call Clegg this week and ask him. What better time than when they are changing the curriculum anyway? Poor mental health holds kids back – I know that for a fact as  Depression blighted my teens and twenties. There was no help available for me and I always wonder if my life would have been different if it had been dealt with sooner. The evidence from Mindfull suggests that it might well have been.
MindFull is a service every young person should be aware of. You can find them on Twitter here and Facebook here.

* Caron Lindsay is Editor of Liberal Democrat Voice and blogs at Caron's Musings

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  • Eddie Sammon 8th Jul '13 - 10:18pm

    I think this is a good idea, but it’s hard to say we are doing anything good for mental health whilst we are cutting benefits by so much.

    I also question any economic benefits of pushing your own citizens, including children, beneath the poverty line. This is disastrous for mental health and therefore productivity.

  • Its a worthwhile initiative but I wonder whether or not it can start being taught at an even younger age.

  • I think that this new Mind-full initiative should be helpful. Its not drastically new – we have had similar initiatives in the past. The emphasis towards web based access and peer monitoring is greater but brings its own problems. You’ll see that there is quite a severe warning about police involvement on one page; that isn’t something you’d expect in a therapeutic context. It may be that the moderators are thinking of predators while interaction between adolescents as a group may be more of a problem.

    Caron says that we can get things done and done quickly. I don’t think so. We have spent twenty years de-skilling social workers and teachers and cutting out reflective work in our child guidance and mental health establishments in favour of short-term interventions, charismatic “experts”, targets, behavioural modification programmes and drugs. We need to reverse that. That’s a long process.

    We recently spent a lot of money trying to reduce mental health stigma with very little result. So putting mental health on the curriculum is unlikely to have a great effect. What would be helpful is if schools were to concern themselves with their pupils’ emotional life. That means more than circle time or “providing access” to councillors. It means teachers thinking together regularly about not only individual children but about the group in the school and the home situations too. Its about making the school a therapeutic space. Not very “rigorous” but we would actually expect academic performance to improve markedly as the level of disturbance decreases.

    This way of working isn’t new or exciting but it works very well with severely disturbed and traumatised children and works better with the milder cases in mainstream society.

  • I think it should be taught in secondary school because that’s the time when most teens who have it will realise that it is actually depression. Also there is so much stigma about mental health and if you teach it when there teens then they won’t be so quick to judge others with mental health issues when there older.

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