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Compulsory Mental Health Education Is Essential In Schools

PICTURE POSED BY MODEL A woman showing signs of depression.

Earlier this year, back in May, our small foundation (of just 5 employees at the time), along with the support of the general public from all over the UK, achieved a huge goal: we achieved over 100,000 signatures on our government petition to make mental health education compulsory in all UK schools. Despite the deadline for our petition being cut short, due to the snap general election, we managed this in just three months. Even then we were unsure if it would even go through, considering the fact that a new petitions committee was to be put in place after our petition finished.

However, we have since received some brilliant news: confirmation that the petition was successful and will be debated in Parliament on the 6th November at 4:30pm.

We are The Shaw Mind Foundation, and the petition was part of our HeaducationUK campaign.

I’m Adam Shaw, Chairman and Founder of The Shaw Mind Foundation. I grew up in Sheffield and struggled for over 30 years with severe OCD, which led me to the brink of suicide. On recovering with the help of my psychologist Lauren Callaghan, I vowed to help support people – those who were less fortunate than me – to overcome their mental illnesses. To acheive this, Lauren and I set up the charity and the publishing company Trigger Press, which publishes a range of mental health self-help books. Our main focus is to make support and resources more readily available to those who may not otherwise be able to access them.

Compulsory mental health education is incredibly important to us and is, quite frankly, vital. This is why we began our HeaducationUK campaign. Currently mental health is only taught as an optional component of PHSE – but this is not good enough. It needs to be compulsory. Understanding mental health is an absolute life skill, and should be just as important within the school curriculum as reading and writing. There needs to be a compulsory collaboration and integration between mental health education and physical education, so that children and young people can understand that maintaining good mental health is key to their wellbeing.

Mental health education is the only way we can tackle this issue effectively and relieve the enormous pressure on teachers, a stretched school curriculum, mental health social workers, the NHS and CAHMS, which will be hugely advantageous for the UK economy in the decades to come. Educating the next generation about mental illness will also help us massively in normalising mental health conditions, eliminating stigma and encouraging open and honest conversations.

We will be commissioning an independent report to show the long-term impact that compulsory mental health education will have on the workplace, social media, NHS, UK economy, family mental health and wellbeing. Compulsory mental health education – and the key word is ‘compulsory’ – will be a game changer. Our report will also make recommendations on how it can be efficiently and cost-effectively implemented into the curriculum.

I am absolutely thrilled at the success of the HeaducationUK campaign so far. But I am aware that having a debate doesn’t guarantee success. We have a big fight ahead of us. One that really shouldn’t be that big a fight.

I would personally love to ask Theresa May and Government ministers what the benefits are for not having compulsory mental health education. If you really look at this question and ask yourself it seriously, the more ridiculous the concept of not having it becomes.

For those that don’t think it should be compulsory, here is a hypothetical question:

If mental health education was already a compulsory part of the national curriculum, where would you currently rank it on a list of importance in comparison to other subjects such as music, art, languages, technology etc.? Of course, they’re all important, but if we were to suddenly remove one from the curriculum, what would have the biggest negative impact on UK society and economy? I can pretty much guarantee that losing compulsory mental health education would have the most detrimental effect. The consideration for not making mental health education compulsory now becomes even more farcical.

And so this is where you, the general public, can lend your voice and support. If you agree with my arguments, then you need to stand with us in order to make a change. We understand that a debate is only the first step in this process, but we want you to become involved and share the message. Share the news about the debate online. Show up at Westminster in London and celebrate with us on 6th November at 4.30pm. Lobby your local MP to actively support this cause. We even have a template at http://shawmindfoundation.org/ which you can use to write them a letter.

Let’s get the conversation started. Let’s show our government that they can’t run or hide anymore, and that we, as a nation, will not stop until mental health education is a compulsory part of the national curriculum, not a nice-to-have component of PHSE.

The current system works simply as a sticking plaster approach. Let’s make the UK a world leader in mental health services and public welfare.

By Adam Shaw
Chairman and Founder of The Shaw Mind Foundation

(This blog originally appeared on Huffington Post)

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