Mental health isn’t something that I have always been fully aware of, however from a young age I always knew that I was experiencing something that most other kids probably weren’t at that time. I found myself from as young as the age of six (and possibly much younger) becoming quite panicky about simple things, even such as going to school, and quite often I would have this sick feeling in my stomach and would become very hot and flustered to the point where I would just want to avoid either going to school or wherever I was meant to be going altogether and try again another day (with this feeling being more prominent either on the first day back at school after the summer holidays, when I had a class that day I didn’t particularly like or if I had to do some sort of presentation in front of the whole class). These feelings have never gone away. I hated feeling like this (and still do) and what made it more troublesome was that in my school I had no idea who I could go to to talk to about my mental health issues to try and get some form of help.
I was at the school that I went to for seven years (two of those years were for A-Levels) and I don’t think that it was once mentioned in those seven years what someone should do if they were having to deal with their mental health problems. We knew exactly what we were meant to do if we were physically ill, which was to tell our teacher and then go to reception to either get some paracetamol or get them to ring someone to come and pick us up. And if we had injured ourselves in PE (or another lesson) we would be sent to the first aider who would see what was wrong with us and try to sort us out; or if she couldn’t do that we would be sent to the hospital across the road. So why wasn’t the same level of treatment given to people with mental health? Because mental health is just as real as physical health, it’s just that you can’t see mental health – which has always been the problem.
So let me put into perspective how bad my school were at dealing with mental health. I have a friend who a few years ago was suffering with very severe depression, she was self-harming, and was feeling suicidal. She never really properly opened up to me or any of our other friends about what she was dealing with. As her friends we did try and help her in any way possible without always trying to make it obvious about what we knew, just so that she could feel loved and that she had any one of us to go to about what she was feeling and we would always be there for her and would give her whatever help she needed. One day when things had gotten really bad, and for reasons that I won’t get into, she didn’t turn up for school this day. Me and a couple of my friends had been on our phones in a lesson to see if we could find anything on social media that might give us some sort of indication as to what was going on. As being on phones during lessons was a big ‘no-no’ at my school (as I expect it is in other schools) our teacher came over to us to get us to get off our phones and we eventually told him a little bit of what was happening with our friend. He then told a couple of them to go and talk to another teacher who was trained to ‘deal with these matters’. As far as I’m aware, despite my friends going to talk to her and how serious all of this was, my friend was never spoken to by said teacher and the school hadn’t gotten in touch with her to offer some form of support. The school knew the extent to how bad things were with my friend, and yet they did absolutely nothing about it. Considering what could have happened to her, this is shocking.
To put this into perspective, I’m going to tell you a story about another one of my friends who once dislocated her knee whilst in PE. We had been playing rounders on the astro turf outside school and there was three or four pitches set up on there. My friend’s team were on the pitch that was near to one of the hockey goals. When my friend stepped up to bat she managed to hit the ball and managed to score a rounder. Under normal circumstances, this would be an amazing achievement. However, the ground was a little wet this particular day and as she was running she either managed to slip or run into the hockey goal, resulting in her falling over and dislocating her knee. As soon as this incident happened, one of our PE teachers ran straight over to her to see what was wrong, and upon realising what she had done she sent someone to reception to go and get one of the first aiders. When they realised that it wasn’t something that they would be able to deal with, they took her to the A&E that is just over the road from my school.
Where was this compassion for my other friend?
As I said before, I don’t know how other schools work, however with mine, after seven years of being there, I have absolutely no idea who I would go to if I was having a particularly bad day in regards to my mental health. I’m not saying that all schools are as bad as this, however when people already feel completely alone and like they have no one to talk to, it’s pretty annoying to say the least when I felt the need to want to talk to someone but someone with a bit more expertise than maybe that of my friends. Even if it was just to have a bit of guidance when it came to being able to cope with my mental health while in school.
It’s not even just the fact that there doesn’t seem to be anyone that students can go to when they need to discuss their mental health. It’s also the fact that no schools seem to hold any lessons that are dedicated to mental health. Obviously I can’t talk about all schools as there may be some that do discuss mental health with their students, however based on my own experience and in talking to people I know who went to different schools to me, there doesn’t seem to be any discussion about mental health in lessons whatsoever. There are plenty of discussions about physical health, such as to do with the repercussions of smoking or drinking on your body, but there never seems to be an in-depth discussion about the mental health sides of things. Yes, in core studies (or PSHE) some mental illnesses may be mentioned when discussing the repercussions about smoking or drinking, but never in depth. I remember having one lesson in core studies in either year 10 or year 11, where we were talking about the effects that the excessive consumption of alcohol can have on your body and most of the lesson seemed to be on what it does to your body physically and it was only very briefly mentioned on what effects excessive drinking can do to your mental health; to the point where only a few mental illnesses were mentioned but not discussed.
I get that schools have a lot of things that they need to educate us on and they can’t educate us on every single thing in the world because there is only so much that you can fit into one school year. However, all I’m asking for here is one or two lessons in core studies/PSHE at the LEAST that are dedicated to teaching students about mental health; as well as making them aware of people who they can talk to inside and outside of school so that no one ever has to feel like they are alone in whatever they are going through. I feel that most schools seem to turn a blind eye when it comes to mental health and this needs to be stopped. And it needs to be stopped now.
I don’t want anyone to ever feel like they’re alone when it comes to mental health in school. Coming from a small community like I do, I always thought that I was the only one who felt the way that I did. The only advice I feel that I can give you is to try and talk about it with people who you trust. This can be your friends, who will always be very understanding and should want to look out for you and give you all the support that you might need. Or if you don’t want to do that, you can always talk to one of your teachers who you trust (such as your form tutor if your school has those) as anything that you talk to them about will always have to be kept confidential and they won’t be able to share anything that you tell them with other teachers or pupils/students.
I would also like anyone who is struggling with mental health issues to get in touch with me if you don’t feel comfortable with telling people who you know about your mental health. You can DM me on twitter (@teenagelifebeth) or email me (firstname.lastname@example.org). You might also find my blog helpful (teenagelifebeth.blogspot.com) as that has a lot of my own experiences of mental health on there and how I’ve dealt with them.
One day we will beat the mental health stigma together!
Love Beth xx
Written by Beth at Teenage Life Beth blog | 05.09.18