Iain's story: how school affected my mental health

When I think about the journey of my own mental health, on first glance, it really only goes back two or three years, when I first went to a doctor about my anxiety and depression while at university.

I was offered counselling through the university counselling services and was given anti-anxiety medication, and later antidepressants. However, when reflecting truly on my mental health journey it could go back almost 20 years to when I started primary school.

Childhood

I was an anxious child. My home life was a happy one, however my family had their stresses and bumps in the road with jobs stress, money and health.

I was the youngest, and seemed to take all this in and carry it with me. I was a very happy child, and had a great childhood, however I was aware of all the stresses around me, but was unaware of who or how to talk about them. This same kind of behaviour followed me through all my primary school education, and into my time at secondary.

As I got older I started to understand more about my family life and that I wasn’t the one who should always try to fix everything and make everyone feel better. However, life got stressful in other ways.

The increase in academic stress, common stress at school with exams and tests, peer pressure and feeling different, and struggling with my sexuality, all accounted for some pretty poor levels of mental wellbeing. This was a common thing among me and my peers, and we found solace in each other and – when we could – our families.

I struggled throughout the first few years of my undergraduate degree at university, and finally sought support from my GP following a major death in the family – which I thought at the time had triggered the stresses and anxiety in my life.

The lack of support in school

Throughout my school life I was pretty unaware of mental health when it was not in crisis mode. My mother has been on and off antidepressants almost my whole life, and I saw how mental health was represented on TV as always being a crisis situation, so I was aware of low depressive moods and aware of help that was out there when you have a clinical diagnosis of depression.

However, I was never introduced to wellbeing and introduced to early intervention methods. My school had a good ethos of being able to speak to your pastoral care teacher when things got tough. However, it felt like you were wasting their time if you went and you were not in crisis.

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There was little discussion of mental health within the classroom, and little support for people just going through the mill of teenage development and emotions. Myself and my friends learnt about mental health on social media sites and probably learnt some poor coping mechanisms through these sites. We had each other for support, but there were times were we desperately needed more and we were unaware of who or where to turn to.

When considering the Mental Health Foundation’s recommendations for mental health support in schools, I think that these would have had a huge impact on my experience at school, and my ability to identify poor mental health. The recommendations ask for support and awareness to be implemented and talked about at every level: leadership, pupils, teachers, the curriculum and extra support workers.

I feel that if I had access to this kind of support when I was at school from an early age I would have been able to identify poor mental health earlier and learn healthier coping mechanisms. 

Younger children are aware of stresses that happen in the home and can experience adversity in school. They are as susceptible to poor mental health as everyone is. For me, having looked back on my experience, this is the best way forward. I had a happy childhood because I had friends and family around me that loved me and made me happy throughout the stresses I was feeling.

If I consider going through these stresses without a support system around me, I would have struggled more and it would have had much worse impacts on my development.

Mental health is not extracurricular, it is one of the most important things that can be taught in schools and I would like to see active changes to prevent any young person feeling alone and scared due to how they are feeling and not understanding where help can be sought.

We need your help

At school, Iain felt like he was wasting people's time if he sought help when he was feeling low. This is unacceptable and shouldn't be happening anymore. Sadly, it is, and that is why we're running our Make it Count campaign - to ensure mental health is at the heart of children's school experience. We can't run campaigns like this without your help - please consider making a donation today.

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