Parents call for better mental health education in schools

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Youngsters should be taught more about mental health issues in schools, according to a poll of British parents.

Almost half (45%) said that schools are "failing" to look after the mental health of children and the majority believe that children should learn more about mental health issues in the classroom.

The survey of 1,000 British parents with children under the age of 18 found that four in five said that protecting their children's mental health was a top concern.

And 79% agreed that children should be taught more about mental health in schools, according to the poll conducted by the mental health charity The Shaw Mind Foundation.

The survey was released as the charity launched its campaign, HeaducationUK, which is calling for mental health education to be made mandatory in schools.

Meanwhile, a petition calling on the Government to make mental health education compulsory in primary and secondary schools has been signed by more than 54,000 people.

Earlier this year, ministers announced that personal, social and health education (PSHE) will be compulsory in the future, following further consultation on what it should include.

HeaducationUK founder Adam Shaw, who battled with obsessive compulsive disorder from the age of five, said: "I was very secretive about what I was going through growing up, as I didn't know what was wrong with me.

"My life would have been completely different had I been given effective mental health education at primary school.

"I would have been able to ask for help, and wouldn't have been so frightened. No child should have to experience that pain and fear.

"It is essential that we make mental health education compulsory."

The campaign is being supported by charity YoungMinds. Its chief executive Sarah Brennan said: "Children and young people today face a huge range of pressures, from exam stress to cyber-bullying, and all the evidence suggests that the situation is getting worse.

"Children should learn about mental health from a young age, to build their resilience, and wellbeing should also be a fundamental priority in every aspect of the education system."

The Health and Education select committees launched an inquiry last year into education in mental health.

The powerful group of MPs have since been trying to determine what role education plays in promoting emotional wellbeing in children and young people and preventing the development of mental health problems.

Commenting on the call, Javed Khan, chief executive of the children's charity Barnardo's, said: "We agree with parents that children should be taught more about mental health in schools as it is one of the biggest issues our country is facing today.

"Barnardo's also wants the Government to commit to training all new and existing teachers to gain the skills to help children build resilience and promote good mental health.

"Evidence shows that vulnerable children and young people such as those leaving care or victims of sexual exploitation are more likely to need mental health care than other children. They would stand a better chance of going on to live happy and healthy lives if they are given effective mental health education starting at primary school."

A Department for Education spokeswoman said: "We are determined to ensure that all children and young people get the help and support that they need.

"This is backed by a record £1.4 billion government investment to transform mental health support available, including strengthening the links between schools and local NHS mental health staff.

"Schools are able to teach about mental health in a variety of ways; including through personal, social, health and economic (PSHE) education.

"We also encourage schools to use the freedom they have over the curriculum to meet the needs of their pupils and draw upon high-quality resources in the classroom, including guidance and lessons plans on mental health developed by the PSHE Association."