By Rosie Hilton
CN: sex education, r*pe used in full,
r*pe culture, Donald Trump,
When children begin secondary school, they are plunged into a world of smartphones and snapchat which requires them to be constantly interacting with, and accessible, to one another. It is a world in which distressing images and information are readily available and often inescapable. Yet, our education system gives them little to no support in navigating this overwhelming new world, and the prevalence of mental illness amongst young people is rocketing as a result.
Given this context, it seems shocking that certain bodies are still having to call for more education in mental health. The need for this education seems so obvious that it should not need spelling out. In this moment of crisis, mental health lessons can no longer be seen as an optional supplement, but a mandatory part of education for all young people. We must treat this as the crisis that it is.
The extent of education on mental health at my school was one 50-minute lesson consisting of a patronising PowerPoint written with the assumption that nobody in the room would be experiencing a mental health problem or loving someone who was. We were given a few statistics and a few helplines for when we were really struggling, but no strategies or tools with which to look after our mental health as it was.
‘The extent of education in mental health at my school was one 50-minute lesson consisting of a patronising PowerPoint’
Education about Mental Health must be more than a one-off lesson vaguely signposting where to seek help. Part of a comprehensive education should involve consistent teaching throughout school about gender, sex, relationships, and even politics. Understanding each of these topics gives children the ability to make sense of the constant communication and information they are faced with. It gives them the tools to look at the world critically.
As well as this, sex education that erases the experience of LGBTQ+ young people is detrimental to a sense of self-worth and mental health. A universal and inclusive curriculum of sex education could combat this, and the power of representation should not be underestimated. Furthermore, sex education could provide lessons about consent and gender from an early age which would also be conducive to improved mental health.
An underlying rape culture is pervasive in schools, and is born from a wider culture that is detrimental to the mental health of everyone, teaching girls that they are worth little more than objects, and boys that they must be hyper-masculine. Giving young people the tools to deconstruct those stereotypes gives them the power to reject the expectations delivered to them through the news, social media, and even current politics.
It may seem strange to refer to education in politics in relation to mental health, but being informed about the structures and ideologies that form the world we live in is a crucial weapon in the battlefield of an age of unfiltered information. While the voices of powerful, successful women are being elevated, occurring simultaneously in international politics is a crisis in masculinity. It is a crisis most succinctly summarised by the sentence ‘I too have a Nuclear Button, but it is a much bigger & more powerful one than his’. In simple terms, it is little wonder that so many children are anxious given that the most powerful man in the world is teasing nuclear destruction on twitter every other day.
‘Giving young people the tools to deconstruct those stereotypes gives them the power to reject the expectations delivered to them’
Though education could go a long way in equipping young people to cope, these strategies cannot be imposed until we know the nature and size of the crisis we are combatting, and recent statistics are worryingly hard to get hold of. In the Mental Health Foundation’s report, ‘Fundamental Facts About Mental Health 2016’, a statistic is used claiming that 10 percent of children and young people aged 5-16 have a clinically diagnosable mental health problem. However, this statistic is from surveys carried out in 1999 and 2004. Since then, the way in which young people interact with one another and access information has changed beyond recognition. It is unthinkable that this number has not changed with it, and we cannot begin to tackle the crisis in young people’s mental health if we don’t know anything about it.
The government must devote more time and money to an emergency that is harming and killing our young people. Research is desperately needed, and a radical overhaul of the way we educate children about mental health must be imminent.