Frances' story: How support can save lives
10 October is World Mental Health Day, but really mental health day should be every day of the year.
We all have mental health as well as physical health and it is long overdue that mental health is afforded the same parity as physical health across society.
I'm happy to see that public attitudes to mental health seem to be improving, but there is still much to be done. The World Health Organization defines mental health as a state of wellbeing in which every individual realises his or her own potential, can cope with the normal stresses of life, can work productively and fruitfully, and is able to make a contribution to her or his community.
This is a state of wellbeing that we all aspire to, but shouldn't it really just be our basic human right?
The most effective way of ensuring good mental health for all is to prevent poor mental health developing in the first place and improve early intervention when it does occur. It is intuitive therefore that we start in schools, teaching our children and young people about mental health and wellbeing, and developing their emotional resilience by teaching them positive coping skills and providing them with a toolbox of strategies to use when they are faced with circumstances that affect their wellbeing.
Bullying, maltreatment, poverty, relationships and belonging are just a few factors that children and young people may face, which are known to adversely affect mental health.
50% of adults with mental health problems develop them by the time they are 14 years old, and 75% between the ages of 18 and 24, depending on the research study you look at. This was the case for my son Conor.
Conor took his own life earlier this year. Like myself, he was bullied throughout his school life and I have no doubt would have benefited from being educated about mental health and how to effectively cope with that stress.
His story could have been so very different if he'd had that support at that key stage of his life. Had his mental health problems been prevented or had he been given targeted early intervention support, it's highly unlikely that he would have taken his own life.
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We're calling for schools to put mental health at the heart of what children learn in schools, because mental health is not extracurricular.
Health and wellbeing, along with literacy and numeracy, are the three core areas of the Scottish curriculum that all teachers are responsible for teaching, regardless of subject speciality.
During my time as a teacher, the vast majority of my colleagues were very supportive of that requirement, but a lack of specific training was problematic in designing and delivering lessons. It's really important that all teachers are effectively trained in mental health and are able to provide regular, quality mental health and wellbeing education.
It's also important for schools to involve children and young people in leading their peers in mental health programmes to encourage them to support each other and help break down the stigma surrounding mental health.
Schools should also embed a system of regularly measuring the levels of wellbeing of the whole school community in order to identify problems at an early stage and be proactive in targeting appropriate support. That support should be provided by mental health support workers who work within each school community, which will enable children and young people to receive the support they need, when they need it, and in an environment that they trust.
Heartbreakingly, none of this will bring back my son, but it will go a long way in ensuring that the lives of other young people are not so tragically ended. Please let's make it count!
We need your help
Tragically, Frances' son Conor took his own life due to mental health problems that started in his childhood. We must be doing more to prevent situations like this and give people like Conor the right support to enable them to thrive. We can do this with our Make it Count campaign, but we can't do it without your help. Please consider a donation today. It could even save a life.