Starting the Conversation 

Statistics taken by report by Headucation in 2017 showed every year, 850,000 young people aged 5-16 experience mental health problems each year. That’s 3 children in every class. Of all cases in adult mental health, 75% began before the age of 18. Since 2009 there has been an increase of 106% of cases of young people entering A&E for a psychiatric condition. Between 2011-2014 report of girls self-harming between the ages of 13-16 rose by 68%. Suicide is the biggest killer of young people under the age of 35. That’s surpassing the cases of heart and liver disease, the two other big killers. In the UK alone there are 126 successful suicides carried out each week. A portion of that number lie in school children, 200 of which commit suicide each year.

Such a rise in figures is shocking. But what are we doing to fight it?


It is well known that depression can be caused by a life-changing event or trauma. However, what is less acknowledged is that mental illness can be caused by personality traits such as low esteem or high self-criticism. This means that such genes passed on by parents can put you at a higher risk of developing a mental health issue at some point in your life.

Two of the most pressing issues surrounding mental health are the stigma surrounding it and the lack of education associated with the topic. If a patient visited the hospital having broken their leg, the doctor wouldn’t refuse them painkillers or a cast as support; saying, “see how it goes”, or “come back if it doesn’t get any better”. I am by no means making the idiotic assumption that all doctors would take the same approach. However, this is an experience myself and many of my friends have had and with such a reaction, is it surprising that they feel like they are fighting a losing battle? There can be no doubt that the support system for people suffering from mental illness- and the approach to treating it-is falling short.

Physical Side Effects

What many people don’t know is that mental health issues do impact on physical health.

In many cases, people suffering from mental illness are embarrassed or see it as a weakness in themselves and believe that others will see their condition in the same way. They are scared that if they are honest about the way in which they are suffering, people will treat them differently. So it’s easier to say, “I’m just tired”, because you think that’s what they want to hear anyway.

If people are your real friends they will support you, even if they cannot understand themselves. And for those who are ‘uncomfortable’, who cares? It’s their loss and stupidity. It’s not your fault, none of it is.

The demand for support for mental health is higher than ever before as a paper written by Peter Aspinall and Charles Watters identifies. In Refugees and asylum seekers: A review from an equality and human rights perspective, they write:

“One of the most frequently reported health problems among both dispersed asylum seekers and those in areas of traditional settlement, including anxiety, depression, phobias and PTSD.”

Of the asylum seekers entering the UK, just under half have received a mental health diagnosis. So new training needs to be put in place to meet the demand of treatment. In turn this demand may make the government realise how far short they are falling in terms of support for young people in education in the UK.

So how do we start this conversation?

In 2017 an e petition entitled, ‘Make mental health education compulsory in primary and secondary schools.’ The petition ran under the subtitle: “Mental health education is still not part of the UK curriculum despite consistently high rates of child and adolescent mental health issues. By educating young people about mental health in schools, we can increase awareness and hope to encourage open and honest discussion among young people”.

What is really quite shocking is that while the teaching of physical health in schools is compulsory and a large part of the curriculum, mental health is not. As it stands education in mental health is taught as part of an optional PSHE topic in secondary school. This is not enough. Educating children and young people in the importance of this issue, and that it is not something to be ashamed of, is crucial if we are to improve the wellbeing of both these generations and the ones to come. What we need to tell our children is that it’s ok to be feeling low and that you should not be embarrassed to speak about how you are feeling. If children can be given the tools for a healthier mental health as well as guidelines to help yourself or others, it could be incremental to improving those shocking figures I listed at the beginning of this article.

A green paper published by the government and closed on the 2nd March this year makes steps towards giving young people support in school. It proposes to have a mental health lead in every school by 2025. However, it does not list any solid plans about adding mental health to the curriculum, and this I think is disappointing. Why is the government not allowing young people the tools to help understand themselves and others around them? This is something we will need to keep campaigning for.

So how do we go about starting this conversation? Stop and ask a friend how they’re doing. But not just in passing. Take the time to really ask; show them you’re there for them. Such a simple act of kindness really can make such a big difference and brings us one step closer to helping those around us who are suffering in silence.

By Matilda Martin

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