Mental health education is still not part of the UK curriculum despite consistently high rates of child and adolescent mental health issues. 1 in 10 children and young people aged 5 – 16 suffer from a diagnosable mental health disorder – that is around three children in every class. There has been a big increase in the number of young people being admitted to hospital because of self harm. Over the last ten years this figure has increased by 68%.
In the UK school system, we teach our children how to count, how to write, how to follow rules, how to work in communities. We repeatedly tell them to eat healthily, to exercise more and to look after their teeth. We tell them how to take care of their body physically. We educate them on what’s bad and what’s good about lifestyle and food. What we don’t teach them is how to look after their mental health. We don’t teach them what to do when they’re feeling anxious, or when they’re feeling sad. We don’t educate them on mental health problems or suicide, despite children as young as 5 years old seeking to end their life. We don’t talk about feeling suicidal or the warning signs that our mental health is decreasing. Why?
More than half of all adults with mental health problems were diagnosed in childhood. Less than half were treated appropriately at the time. Surely this means that mental health education should be considered compulsory both in primary and secondary schools.
There’s a reason why we have charities like Young Minds, an organisation set up to support children and young people experiencing mental health problems, and that reason is that there is a prevalence among children and young people. Keeping quiet about something isn’t going to protect people from experiencing mental illness – in fact, it’s likely to make things much worse.
By educating young people about mental health in schools, we can increase awareness and hope to encourage open and honest discussion among young people. In fact, having some early conversations might enable the next generation to naturally place mental and physical illness on a par.
Please sign the following petition to help get mental health education on the UK curriculum:
In 2014, I was completely submersed in the depths of Anorexia Nervosa. I bought, prepared, cooked and presented all my food. No one but me could do this for me. I had to do it. I sat each night and planned my meals for the entire next day. I see now it was a control thing – and that’s one of the key factors in an eating disorder. A lot of people – probably the majority of people – with eating disorders have perfectionist or obsessive personalities. I have both.
An hour ago, my grandma offered to make me a burger with fried onions. To this day, I still cook my own food. On a rare occasion, I hand the control over to somebody else. I was mulling over this idea of my grandma making me tea; feeling slightly out of control and anxious. Memories of 2014 came rushing back to me.
I remember coming home from college one day and having a complete breakdown on the kitchen floor because my mum had thrown away the salad I had leftover from the night before. She said the salad was going off, and it probably was. But in my state of mind, every leaf and crumb of that salad had been calculated and counted and written into my food journal. It had been planned into my head as my dinner for that Tuesday night, and then all of a sudden that control was ripped right from underneath me. It’s just a salad – I know that now – but back then it was so much to my mind and to my life.
Another time, my stepdad had added milk to mashed potatoes alongside the small blob of butter I’d already counted. I was screaming and crying for a good half hour; refusing to eat it.
It’s a strange thing: control. My whole life was based purely on control. Controlling my food allowed me to feel like I was controlling at least something when the whole world around me was falling apart…
I’m still obsessive. I’m a perfectionist. I like to be in control. Though, its a much different type of control to what it was back then.
This control allows me to let others take over sometimes and tonight I’ll eat that burger and onions knowing that I’m further than I was before.
Tomorrow is the day I turn 20 years old. I have officially survived and lived two decades. It’s crazy to think how fast time flies; how many birthdays I’ve celebrated; how many things have happened and changed. How much I’ve changed.
At 11 years old, I didn’t think I’d survive to be 12. Each year since then has been a battle. Each year since then has been an absolute roller coaster. Joy, change, hurt, sadness, depression, anxiety, happiness, fear, shame. At 15 years old, I cried myself to sleep because I didn’t want to celebrate my 16th birthday and become ‘grown up’. Now I’m sat here, the night before my 20th birthday and I won’t cry myself to sleep. Life isn’t a walk in the park. I’m far from where I want to be but much further than I have been.
Tomorrow I will wake up and celebrate that I have actually made it two decades in this crazy world. Two decades of life to which half has been filled with mental illness…
I will not give up.
Mental health problems can affect the way you think, feel and behave. They affect around one in four people in Britain, and range from common mental health problems, such as depression and anxiety, to more rare problems such as schizophrenia and bipolar disorder. A mental health problem can feel just as bad, or worse, as any other physical illness – only you cannot see it.
Some people think that there is an automatic link between mental health problems and being a danger to others. This is an idea that is largely reinforced by sensationalised stories in the media. However, the most common mental health problems have no significant link to violent behaviour. The proportion of people living with a mental health problem who commit a violent crime is extremely small. There are lots of reasons someone might commit a violent crime, and factors like drug and alcohol misuse are far more likely to be the cause of violent behaviour than mental health problems.
There are over 200 classified forms of mental illness so its clearly very important to be aware of the warning signs. Mental Illness has no clear victim. It affects people of all ages, young and old, of all races and cultures and from all walks of life. Mental illness, like physical illnesses, is on a continuum of severity ranging from mild to moderate to severe. More than 7 million people from the UK have a mental illness in any given year. Mental illness affects one in four adults and one in five children. Very few people, however actually seek treatment for mental illness. Many aren’t even aware of the different types of mental health problems and struggle to spot the signs.
So what ARE the warning signs of mental illness?
In an adult:
- Marked personality change
- Inability to cope with problems and daily activities
- Drop in functioning – an unusual drop in functioning, at school, work or social activities, such as quitting sports, failing in school or difficulty performing familiar tasks
- Strange or grandiose ideas (impulsive, boastful, exaggerated, dreams and fantasies)
- Excessive anxieties
- Neurotic or repetitive behaviour (rocking, biting, hitting, head banging, pinching)
- Prolonged depression and apathy
- Marked changes in eating or sleeping patterns
- Extreme highs and lows
- Heightened sensitivity to sights, sounds, smells or touch; avoidance of over-stimulating situations
- jumpy/nervous behaviour, easily startled
- problems with concentration, memory and speech
- disconnected from self or surroundings
- withdrawal and a lack of interaction with others
- Abuse of alcohol or drugs
- Excessive anger, hostility, or violent behaviour
A person who is thinking or talking about suicide or homicide should seek help immediately.
In a child:
Having only one or two of the problems listed below is not necessarily cause for alarm. They may simply indicate that a practical solution is called for, such as more consistent discipline or a visit with the child’s teachers to see whether there is anything out of the ordinary going on at school. A combination of symptoms, however, is a signal for professional intervention.
- The child seems overwhelmed and troubled by his or her feelings, unable to cope with them
- The child cries a lot
- The child frequently asks or hints for help
- The child seems constantly preoccupied, worried, anxious, and intense. Some children develop a fear of a variety of things–rain, barking dogs, burglars, their parents’ getting killed when out of sight, and so on–while other children simply wear their anxiety on their faces.
- The child has fears or phobias that are unreasonable or interfere with normal activities.
- The child can’t seem to concentrate on school work and other age-appropriate tasks.
- The child’s school performance declines and doesn’t pick up again.
- The child loses interest in playing.
- The child tries to stimulate himself or herself in various ways. Examples of this kind of behaviour include excessive thumb sucking or hair pulling, rocking of the body, head banging to the point of hurting himself, and masturbating often or in public.
- The child isolates himself or herself from other people.
- The child regularly talks about death and dying.
- The child appears to have low self-esteem and little self-confidence. Over and over the child may make such comments as: “I can’t do anything right.” “I’m so stupid.” “I don’t see why anyone would love me.” “I know you [or someone else] hates me.” “Nobody likes me.” “I’m ugly. . . too big. . . too small. . . too fat. . . too skinny. . . too tall. . . too short, etc.”
- Sleep difficulties don’t appear to be resolving. They include refusing to be separated from one or both parents at bedtime, inability to sleep, sleeping too much, sleeping on the parent’s or parents’ bed, nightmares, and night terrors.
If you spot any of these warning signs in yourself or in another person please speak concerns to a health professional such as a GP or a charity that can help with advice such as childline or samaritans.
For more information on mental illness:
There are various different types of eating disorders and it can be difficult to spot whether a person’s food habits signify those of someone with an eating disorder. This blog post asks questions about your eating habits to determine if you may be struggling with food. It is not a diagnosis. Answering yes to the questions could indicate you have an eating disorder and you should seek advice from a doctor.
Do you spend a significant amount of time worrying about your body, weight or shape?
Would you say that food, or thinking about food, dominates your life?
Do you worry you have lost control over how much you eat?
Do you make yourself sick when you feel uncomfortably full?
Do you believe that you are fat when others say you are too thin?
Do you avoid food or eating? – OR – Have you experienced a lack of interest in food or eating?
If you suspect that you or someone you know has an eating disorder, it is important to seek help immediately. The earlier you seek help the closer you are to recovery. While your GP may not be formally trained in detecting the presence of an eating disorder, he/she is a good ‘first base.’ A GP can refer you on to a practitioner with specialised knowledge in eating disorders.
find your local eating disorder service here
Suicidal thoughts make every minute of the day a struggle. We are often left questioning why we are still here and what the future holds for us. We wonder how we can keep living a life that has been so hard. We wonder if we’ll ever get better and get the help we need. Mental health problems can be frustrating, isolating, and deathly.
However, there are people out there who understand and want to help. Here are 100 reasons as to why you should stay alive if you’re currently struggling!
- to have hugs that last more than a minute
- a smile from someone special
- melted chocolate
- ice cream on a hot day
- adventures with friends
- watching a sunset
- laughing uncontrollably
- you’ve made it this far
- building forts
- eating fresh baked cookies
- bonfires and hoodies
- pregnancy and new life
- finding a person you love
- late night adventures
- overcoming fears
- dancing in the rain
- walking through the countryside
- making friends with nature
- life is beautiful
- movie nights
- foot massages
- saturday mornings
- you have forever to be dead
- to be happy one day
- you’re beautiful
- you can make a huge difference on the world
- moving to a new place
- getting a pet
- new clothes at summer
- dancing without care
- picnics with friends
- long drives
- waking up late
- to prove them all wrong
- to love and be loved
- the ocean
- very loud music
- days out
- watching a concert/play
- reading your favourite book
- conversations that last all night
- to plan for the future
- to learn new things
- you are important
- christmas morning
- someday the pain will end
- warm baths
- the first snow of winter
- first kisses
- sand between your toes
- flowers in spring
- pyjamas after a hard, long day
- new bed sheets
- water balloon fights
- thrill of roller coasters
- meeting your favourite celebrities
- days spent outside
- the sound of water
- visiting a place from childhood
- all the places you’ve never been
- music whilst driving
- to look back at all the shit you got through
- buying new clothes
- meeting internet friends in real life
- to succeed
- to work in the career you’ve always wanted
- baby laughter
- a hot cup of tea
- rules to break
- to help someone
- smiling at strangers
- the last day of school/work
- taking pictures
- water slides
- going on holiday
- to fall asleep on someone
- to be protected
- to grow
- to make new memories
- to look back on old memories
- to laugh at childhood pictures
- sit with animals and nature
- to be loved by a pet
- swimming on a hot day
- the first signs of autumn
- to binge-watch a series
- to live independently
- to get somewhere in life
- to breathe
- to grow
- so that you can say that you’re alive
Bulimia is a serious eating disorder where people feel that they have lost control over their eating and evaluate themselves according to their body shape and weight. People with bulimia are caught in a cycle of eating large quantities of food (called ‘bingeing’), and then vomiting, taking laxatives or diuretics (called purging), in order to prevent gaining weight. This behaviour can dominate daily life and lead to difficulties in relationships and social situations. Usually people hide this behaviour pattern from others and their weight is often in a healthy range. People with bulimia tend not to seek help or support very readily and can experience swings in their mood as well as feeling anxious and tense.
They may also have very low self-esteem and self harm. They may experience symptoms such as tiredness, feeling bloated, constipation, abdominal pain, irregular periods, or occasional swelling of the hands and feet. Excessive vomiting can cause problems with the teeth, while laxative misuse can seriously affect the heart. Bulimia in children and young people is rare, although young people may have some of the symptoms of the condition. Bulimia usually develops at a slightly older age than anorexia. In some instances, although not all, bulimia develops from anorexia.
- Bingeing – eating large amounts of food
- Purging after bingeing – vomiting, over exercising, using laxatives or diuretics, fasting
- Preoccupied with thoughts of food and life may be organised around shopping, eating and purging behaviour
- Usually secretive about bulimic episodes
- Mood swings
- Feeling anxious and tense
- Distorted perception of body shape or weight
- Feeling of loss of control over eating
- Feelings of guilt and shame after bingeing and purging Isolation
- Can be associated with depression, low self-esteem, misuse of alcohol and self-harm
Physical signs of bulimia
Some of the more common signs of bulimia nervosa are:
- Excessive exercising
- Misuse of laxatives and diuretics
- Disappearing soon after eating
- Fatigue, lethargy
- Feeling bloated
- Stomach pain
- Swelling of the hands and feet
- Periods stop or are irregular (amenorrhea)
- Enlarged salivary glands
- Calluses on the backs of the hand from forcing down throat to vomit
- Electrolyte abnormalities/ imbalance
- Gastric problems
- Regular changes in weight
Worried you have an eating disorder?
Eating disorders are complex; there’s no single cause and not all symptoms will apply to all people. You may feel that you have a mixture of anorexia, bulimia and binge eating disorder or even alternate between them. Some people also find they are affected by other mental health issues, an urge to harm themselves or abuse alcohol or drugs.
Even if you don’t have these symptoms if you are worried and upset by something, anything, it is important you find someone to talk to. Don’t bottle it up.
Sometimes people worry about talking to someone because they feel their eating disorder isn’t serious enough, they don’t want to worry people or waste their time, or because they feel guilty, embarrassed or ashamed. Whether your eating difficulties began recently, you’ve been struggling for a while or you’re finding yourself relapsing, you deserve support and with this support you can overcome your eating disorder. Eating disorders are illnesses and you deserve to have your concerns acknowledged respectfully, to be taken seriously and to be supported in the same way as if you were affected by any other illness.
Discover more about the different types of eating disorders or how to access help and treatment as well as information and inspiration about recovery.