Pin It
mental health pic
Theo Goodyer

The men who want mental health taught in schools

The UK doesn’t have a strong record on mental health issues – are we failing our youth with a lack of education?

As a nation, Britain has a woeful record on mental health. Of the one in four people who’ll experience mental health issues in their lives, few will seek treatment. We’re also failing our young people. One in ten children has a mental health disorder – boys are most likely to have issues - and least likely to reach out for help. 

Despite this, the Government still thinks it’s okay to teach kids their periodic tables, but ignore the chemistry that actually matters – what’s going on inside your head. That’s despite the fact that, at any one time, three kids in your average primary school class will suffer mental health problems.

Campaigners today are fighting to get mental health officially taught in schools. A petition to introduce mental health education to the national curriculum, started by Sheffield University student Foyez Syed, currently has over 38,000 signatures and has attracted high-profile supporters including Stephen Fry. 

Meanwhile, activist Jonny Benjamin launches initiative 'ThinkWell’ later this week, bringing mental health workshops to secondary schools. Benjamin rose to prominence after his “Find Mike” campaign to find the stranger who saved him from committing suicide was made into powerful documentary Stranger on the Bridge.

We interviewed Benjamin and Syed to find out why we need to teach young kids about their mental health and what to do when they’re feeling blue. 

“If I’d been taught about mental health in school, I think it would have massively helped. I’d have got help sooner.” I’m talking to Benjamin down the line after he hosted a successful workshop yesterday in a secondary school. “If someone had just walked in and and said, ‘this is what mental health is, there’s no need to be embarrassed’, then maybe I wouldn’t have ended up attempting suicide”.

Syed also has personal reasons for his petition. “I started the petition because of my experiences of mental illness, specifically obsessive-compulsive disorder. I developed OCD when I was 14, but had no idea what mental illness was or how to get help. It wasn’t until I was 19, when I was feeling suicidal and had to drop out of university, that I finally got help”. 

“We have physical education on the curriculum – why not mental health?”

Both are hopeful that teaching mental health in schools will erode the stigma that persists around mental illness. Syed explains: “I kept quiet because of the stigma. With education I would have been empowered to seek help a lot sooner”. Benjamin agrees. “We need to break down stigma. 90 per cent of young people with mental health issues will experience stigma and discrimination, which is unacceptably high”. 

Given how many people struggle, it's surprising to hear how little support is currently given to young people with mental health issues. Nia Charpentier from the mental health charity Rethink tells me that 75 per cent of children experiencing mental health problems don’t get treatment. “The consequences of failing to support those children and young people properly are profound. Schools have a golden opportunity to protect and promote children's mental health."

For Benjamin, his campaign is only just getting started. “I want to transform mental health teaching in schools. Because we really need to get the message out there. There’s already so much pressure on young people, with social media and exams. We have physical education on the curriculum – why not mental health?”