• Jane Kilpatrick

Is Now The Time That Mental Health Education Should Be Fully Integrated In Our Schools' Curriculum?

Updated: Aug 18, 2020

There has never been a moment in modern history where the topic of mental health and wellbeing has been at the forefront in our society.

As adults, we are bombarded by messages of the benefits of incorporating physical wellbeing into our hectic lives and most recently we have become conscious of the importance of applying mental health tools to help calm the mind, reduce anxiety and remove stress. The global pandemic has forced a revolutionary re-think on how people work, engage, learn, and collaborate. The word “teams” has a whole new meaning, now representing a digital engagement between humans versus a physical participation amongst peers.

As adults, we have the awareness and maturity of how to apply and cope with our mental health for our own personal benefit. We are capable and have the experience to make the choice and decision to learn how to accept the benefits of being aware of the positive or even the negative impacts of our mental wellbeing. Our children do not have this power or the means and aren’t equipped with the knowledge to start to be aware of the impact of the enormous pressures they face today, be it from school exams, bullying, peer pressure, social media or interactions at home or at school. If we do not act now, then as the post Covid-19 generation we will fail in our joint responsibility to provide a mental health duty of care for our children and their children. Let’s not be under any illusion, the time to deal with this crisis is not approaching – it’s already here!

The academic performance from our children has traditionally been the main metric by which we all measure their success or perceived failure. The outcome of this sole metric still dictates the path of their further education, careers and subsequently how their lives unfold. If your child is fortunate enough to have access to an extra school curriculum, such as sports, drama or outdoor pursuits, then your child has other avenues in which they can add to their own additional personal measurements. They know that their success is purely down to how much they put into the activity is what they will get out of it. However, this is not the case with academic targets and if schools are forced to continue to pursue academic attainment without providing mental health guidance, support and tools as part of the educational curriculum then we are creating a time bomb waiting to explode. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to establish a formula that equates to happy, non-stressed, non-pressured and confident children to equal higher levels of engagement, improved concentration, increased performance and ultimately better results.

Its very simple! Children who are under immense pressure find it extremely difficult to engage in everyday life in which school plays a large proportion of that. The cost to their personal lives and the fiscal impact is gigantic. So why isn’t mental health baked into the everyday curriculum in our schools and why aren’t schools providing educational resources to children, parents, or carers?

Consider this. How many subjects taught at school do we carry on using in our adult lives? Not very many! There are the core subjects that form the foundation to equip us to cope in adult life such as Maths, English and Science. There can be no better subject to take forward from school in adulthood than ‘Mental Wellbeing’. It is a lifelong subject that requires no level of aptitude, experience or qualification. It is a subject where there is no exam required, no-one is graded and everyone participates. It is a subject where the benefits go wider than the classroom as it helps, supports and develops the relationship between pupils, pupils and teachers and between pupils and their families.

Fortunately, we do have a wide variety of mental health support available to young people in our community, however they are generally designed to deal with the effects and not the root cause of poor mental health. So we are reacting rather than preventing. To radically reduce the effects of poor mental health there needs to be a framework within school to help prevent the effects in the first place. It is obvious that schools are the most appropriate establishments to implement preventative measures because they are the source of access to every child, from Primary to University. Preventing long-term mental health issues will drive up our national productivity, while reducing the already stretched financial burdens on managing the effects (including reducing family law cases and child protection services). Schools are the only realistic platform in which to counter the declining mental health epidemic that we are currently in.

Implementing a mental health program within a school’s curriculum is also not a complicated issue. Schools need to take a serious look at the subjects that are just no longer important and they need to make the sacrifice to cut out one lesson per week from non-valued added subjects and replace with a Mental health awareness lesson, or at least provide every child and teacher with on-line courses and tools. Imagine, every child in this county getting a minimum of thirty minutes a week to help them develop socially, emotionally and build confidence by giving them the tools and support to mitigate the mental health risks associated from the anxiety caused by many aspects of school life. Who wouldn’t want that for their child? There is not an employer in the land that wouldn’t want a self-induced happy workforce. There isn’t a community anywhere in this country that wouldn’t benefit from an educational system that is based on compassion.

We are now getting ready to send our children back to school for the first time since March 2020, post the COVID-19 Pandemic. It is very clear, and unless you have been in lock-down under a rock, you will not have missed the constant exposure in the press and media showing the enormous anxiety that parents are feeling at this time. Our household is no different as we are discussing whether our daughter should take the bus or train to school. What is safer? What bubble will she be in? What happens if there is another spike? What will happen to her academic performance if she needs to miss another term without the physical interaction with her teachers and peers? There are so many questions. As an adult, I can rationalise the situation. But can our children?

Everyday we hear the term “our new normal” and never has this become such an important phrase to create a new education normal. Mental Health needs to be by default a part of the curriculum and schools need to prioritise this immediately. The effects of this current pandemic will affect our children for decades and for sure there will be other global economic, climate and cultural disasters that they will need to face and cope with.

Imagine your child coming home from school and recounting their day that included telling you that they have learnt how to be happy and self-aware. Imagine them telling you that they have all the tools at their disposal to help them cope with the pressures of school, enabling them to deal with every situation from a state of inner peace and confidence. Not only would they feel completely emotionally supported and more secure, but they would have the strength to manage the daily pressures of school and life resulting in an improved overall academic performance with less pressure and stress free. How happy would this make them feel, plus dramatically reducing parental anxiety?

There is never a “too early” only a “too late”, when it comes to combining mental health and education to truly equip our children and enable them to thrive and to be the very best versions of themselves today and in the future. Young people today deserve a complete education.

About the Author

Jane Kilpatrick

Children & Teens Life Coach

With over 20 years’ experience in the health and wellbeing industry, and now as solution focused hypnotherapist and mindfulness coach, Jane helps clients overcome whatever it is that may be holding them back and works with them to achieve their desired goals, instilling confidence, motivation and a passion for personal growth.