As part of this campaign, we wanted to hear from young people about their experiences with mental health in schools, and what difference they feel education could have made to them. Here are just a few of the stories we've heard. (Some names have been changed to preserve anonymity)
At school I did not know enough about mental health to even know that I might be suffering from something - I thought my problems were my personality, not an illness. It felt too embarrassing to ask for any support as I was ashamed of my difficulties. Any freely offered advice from staff at school were along the lines of ‘you need to have more confidence’ or ‘you need to be more positive’. All in all not very helpful advice for someone with depression and anxiety.
On a personal level, mental health education at school would have changed the course of my life. Who knows what I could have achieved, or felt able to do had I not been paralysed by depression and anxiety problems. I find it is not useful for me to dwell on what could have been had someone spent a few hours educating me and my peers on mental health; however I am determined to help in this cause so that other young people will have the chance to learn, grow and heal with this important knowledge, allowing them to make the most of being young and of the opportunities given to them.
I think these could perhaps have been starting to develop in my final 2 years of school (I'd just moved to a new school). At that time, I was unaware of the symptoms of mental health difficulties and what to look out for and my new teachers just seemed to assume that I must be a bit of a rubbish student and I was prevented from sitting the majority of my exams one year as they didn't predict I would pass them due to bad results in my prelims.
Being aware of the symptoms of mental health difficulties could have meant I or my peers would have realised what was going on with me sooner. It's widely acknowledged that early support is critical in achieving the best possible recovery. With earlier realisation of what was happening and earlier support I might not have had to drop out of my first uni before completing the year and I might not have been signed off work for prolonged periods multiple times.
They did not support my needs well at all, their resources were limited and I was not treated as though my mental health issues were "serious enough". I was forced to leave school before completing my higher exams because of this. Mental health education would have made big difference! It would also have allowed my classmates to be more understanding.
In hindsight I did have problems, but I wasn't aware I was mentally ill at the time. I didn't seek help and no one seemed to identify me as needing support, therefore I received none. Better education would have probably resulted in me being a happier and more purposeful person than I am today.
Luckily I attended a high school with a number of staff well experienced in mental health and with high mental health awareness, however not many children in Scotland are as lucky. I think better mental health education would help raise awareness of mental illnesses that are often not taken seriously or stigmatised by others, and also help those who are suffering to feel less alone and to and encourage them to speak to friends, family or teachers about how they are feeling and hopefully receive the help they need.
Mental health was stigmatised in my secondary school, by pupils and by poor awareness and teaching. The system of reporting mental health issues and speaking to someone was stigmatised, and I wasn't comforted or supported at any stage. I was made to feel that my actions and thoughts were wrong, and had to be stopped, which made me bottle them up and keep quiet.
High quality mental health education and support would have made a huge different to my development as an adult, while I was at the crucial stage of secondary school. I potentially wouldn't have bottled up my feelings for so long, and suffered in silence for so many years. It would have changed the way I thought about myself, my relationships, and my ability to focus and reach my potential. It would have made a huge and positive difference to me.
In 6 years of high school we had one 50 minute long PSE class about mental health and it was certainly not useful to me. I was around 14 or 15 years old so would have been in 3rd or 4th year of high school. In the lesson we were given a brief, very scientific definition of what mental health is and then asked if we had any questions and of course then the room full of 14/15 year olds went completely and uncomfortably silent. We were not told the names of different mental health problems, we were not told what the different signs and symptoms of mental health issues might be and we were not told who, where and when we could talk to someone for help if we were having an emotionally or mentally difficult time.
But these issues could have been looked at if we had more than one lesson and it would have felt more comfortable if it had been structured - for example if we talked about a different type of mental health issues each week or at least one at a time rather than an uncomfortable and not necessarily confidential open space where individual pupils were too afraid to share their experience in case it became a piece of gossip shared around the school.
Being able to understand that certain thoughts, feelings and behaviours I had experienced for so long were recognisable and diagnosable as anxiety and panic would have improved my self confidence to no end. Needless to say this really would have helped me be able to concentrate better in my classes and get better grades because I wouldn’t have be constantly worrying about having a panic attack! So I do often think that if I had know that 4, 5 or even 10 years previously I could have achieved more both academically and socially, or even that the things I did achieve would not have been tainted or spoiled in some way by my experience of anxiety and panic.
Teachers from my early primary school years had noted my anxiety but it was consistently simply swept under the rug by saying “she’s just a worrier” and “I‘m sure she’ll grow out of it” which just makes it so clear why high quality mental health education is so important because some young people who don’t understand mental health grow up to be teachers who don’t understand mental health and the same mistakes end up repeated.