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Why parents aren’t best placed to teach their children about mental health

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stephanie coxDuring our HeaducationUK petition campaign – Make Mental Health Education Compulsory in UK Schools – a few select individuals asked us why we had to ‘ram it down our kids’ throats in school’ and why parents couldn’t teach their kids about mental health at home instead.

Well, I thought it might be useful for me to share one of our responses with you here, so you can understand why we are campaigning for mental health education to take place in school and not in the home:

“Considering millions of parents the world over think a person with OCD ‘just likes to be super clean’; considering I see many parents online sharing memes saying ‘Just Think Positive!’ in reaction to people admitting they’re depressed; when we see names such as ‘crazy’, ‘loopy’, ‘lunatic’, bandied around about people with mental health issues; when people call suicidal people ‘selfish’ for ‘not thinking about the bairns in their life’; when celebrities like Piers Morgan are telling mentally ill people to ‘man up’ and people are rejoicing about it; and when people call a premenstrual woman ‘bipolar’ for switching moods quickly – are you seriously telling me that you trust parents to be able to educate children adequately on mental illness?

Parents in today’s day and age were never given education on mental health when they were children, and therefore a lot of them are uninformed at best and discriminatory at worst. They are not the people who should be teaching children about mental health because very often they, themselves, need educating too.

That’s why The Shaw Mind Foundation, Mind, and Heads Together exist: to break the stigma and tackle misconceptions. In an ideal world in the future, every parent will be adequately educated by specialists and trained professionals when they are younger and then will be able to impart that knowledge, accurately, to their children.

In the meantime, children need to be educated in the classroom about mental health, in the same way they’re educated in the classroom about physical health. If an academic education is designed to help a child thrive in life, then mental health education is paramount to that. Why? Because people the world over, including staff at the Shaw Mind Foundation, have struggled to thrive, be successful, and lead happy family lives because they’ve been mentally ill as children and adults. They believed they were ‘abnormal’, or ‘freaks’, or ‘wrong’, and therefore never talked to anyone about their mental health due to fear. As a result, it didn’t get treated by a doctor or therapist and became worse and worse.

Educating children in the classroom will teach them that mental illness is a common thing, that it’s okay to talk about it, and that there’s help out there if they need it. It will teach the children who don’t suffer that people around them – such as their classmates, friends or parents – might be suffering. It can give them an idea of what they might be suffering from, so that they don’t fear or discriminate against the people around them – now or in the future.

If art and music and drama has a place in an academic setting, then so does mental health education. If you’ve never suffered or been educated on mental health as a child, you might struggle to fully understand. But when it’s implemented in schools, all children will be given the opportunity to understand. More mentally ill children will be referred to the relevant people for treatment – because they’re more understanding about their problems and will speak up to those who can seek help. And that makes a mentally healthier, and more socially inclusive, UK society.”

Stephanie Cox – The Shaw Mind Foundation

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