How Important is Mental Health in the Education System?

mental health in the education system

Maintaining good mental health is important at any age but it is especially critical for young people. Poor mental health can negatively impact a child’s self-esteem, impede their learning and development, and even result in problems with their physical well-being.

Without a good understanding of how to achieve and maintain good mental health, young people can develop emotional issues that they may struggle with their entire lives.

Ensuring that students are aware of the risks associated with poor mental health can help them become more resilient and give them the skills they need to cope with everyday stresses and challenges. Incorporating mental health awareness programs into the education system helps children identify mental health issues and teaches them how to find help or support when needed.

Young People in the UK and Mental Health

Mental health problems are a major issue for young people throughout the UK. One in six children aged five to sixteen in the UK were identified as having a mental health issue, according to a 2020 survey by the National Health Service (NHS). This is a massive increase from the previous 2017 survey, which reported one in nine children as having mental health problems. Currently, five students in every UK classroom could be considered to have serious mental health issues.

Some 16% of teenagers reported experiencing significant levels of psychological distress by the age of 17, with 24% stating that they had self-harmed, and 7% reporting self-harm with suicidal intent, according to a study being published by the University College London and reported by the National Children’s Bureau.

These figures are especially sobering when one considers that the data was collected before the Covid-19 Coronavirus pandemic took hold. Now, as many as 80% of young people with mental health issues state that the pandemic has made their condition worse.

Prevalent Conditions & Those at Risk

The most common mental health issues experienced by children and teenagers in the UK are:

  • Depression
  • Generalised anxiety disorder (GAD)
  • Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
  • Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD)
  • Eating disorders such as anorexia nervosa or bulimia nervosa

Children and young people who are most at risk of developing mental health problems fall into the following groups, according to the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children (NSPCC):

  • Those who have suffered abuse and neglect at home
  • Children and young people who have additional needs and disabilities
  • Children and young people from black and minority ethnic groups
  • Children and young people who have been through traumatic or stressful life situations
  • Children and young people living in care
  • LGBTQ+ children and young people

Why Include Mental Health in the School Curriculum?

The mental well-being of children and teenagers is just as important as physical health. Students who do not receive sufficient education about mental health awareness can develop behavioural problems that impair development of learning and socialisation skills. Around 50% of mental health issues in adults are established by age 14, as reported by the UK Mental Health Foundation.

Teachers and academics that have experience in the mental health and education sector agree that school staff cannot replace the roles played by mental health experts. However, educators and staff members can assist students by promoting the importance of good mental health. Students should also be provided with access to systems and processes that can help them to deal with any mental health issues they may be experiencing.

By including mental health education programmes in school curriculums, educators and staff can provide young people with a safe learning environment in which they are at less risk of developing mental health problems. Raising awareness about mental health can help students recognise when they or their peers are experiencing difficulties, and give them the confidence to seek assistance and support.

Mental Health Initiatives in UK Schools

The UK government recognised the need for an increased focus on mental health in school curriculums and responded in 2019 by announcing a new compulsory subject entitled Relationships, Health and Sex Education (RSHE).

RSHE is now included in curriculums for both primary and secondary schools. Some primary schools adapt the program as RHE, because sex education is not a compulsory subject at that level. RSHE teaches students about the importance of staying in good mental and physical health and provides them with the skills to develop and maintain healthy relationships.

Despite this progress, the Mental Health Foundation still reports that up to 75% of young people find it difficult to access mental health support systems. To address this problem, YoungMinds has recommended that the UK government introduce funding to provide schools with the ability to commission extra support for students during times of crisis. The UK Mental Health Foundation is asking that teachers receive one day of training a year about children’s mental health issues, with a minimum of one hour per week devoted to promotion of good mental health amongst students.

In response to these and other concerns, in March 2021 the UK government allocated £79 million towards improvement of mental health support systems in schools. This fund will be used to raise the number of mental health support teams in schools from 59 to 400, and also provide training sessions and workshops for parents and teachers on how to help young people maintain good mental health and well-being.

Schools also have a legal duty to safeguard student welfare. This duty encompasses both the physical and mental health of children under care of the school. Further information on the legal duties that schools have in regards to supporting the mental health and well-being of students can be found in the statutory guidelines in the UK government’s Keeping Children Safe in Education (KCSIE) report.

The Importance of Continuing Mental Health Education in the Workplace

Mental health education should not simply stop once people leave the formal education system. It is crucial for adults to address their own mental health concerns if they are to provide the leadership and support that children and young people require. Continued mental health awareness training should be a part of every workplace’s health and safety protocols.

There are sound business reasons to provide employees with access to mental health awareness training. Bloomberg reports that sick leave due to mental health issues cost UK employers an estimated £43 billion in 2021.

Employers who provide accredited mental health training to employees can create a healthier and more productive workplace. Employees that receive adequate support for maintaining good mental health find it easier to cope with stressful situations are generally less likely to call in sick and report increased levels of job satisfaction.

Offering employees access to online health and safety training is a simple and cost-effective way of helping them become more aware of the risks of poor mental health. Those interested in exploring online courses covering mental health at work issues can find many on offer at the Human Focus website.

Human Focus provides mental health awareness courses such as:

All health and safety courses provided by Human Focus are fully accredited by regulatory bodies such as the Continuing Professional Development Service (CPD) and the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents (RoSPA).

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Joe Vickers
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