Children get coughs and colds, graze their knees and sometimes break their arm. But this is ‘the norm’ and people talk openly about it. Why is it then that if a young person is depressed or struggling with a mental illness that nobody talks about it?
A major risk factor
With one in four people experiencing some kind of mental health problem, including 10% of all children it should be something we can discuss openly to avoid the feeling of isolation and to help young people cope. Suicide is the second leading cause of death among 15 to 29-year-olds across the globe, with depression a major risk factor.
Yet people still have a negative attitude with regards to mental health problems, and people that seek help for mental ill health are often targeted as “crazy”, “weak”, “flawed” or “dangerous”.
A 2007 study found that many young people avoid seeking help for mental health problems, fearing they will be judged by peers, family members and even school staff. So why is there still so little education on the brain and how it works in schools? Although there are treatments available, there may be a big gap in explaining the processes happening in the brain. It is important to teach children about our brain and how it works from an early age.
Studies have shown there are abnormalities in the way that a ‘depressed’ brain works. You cannot simply ‘snap out’ of depression, but you could understand it better by learning about the brain.
Neuroscience investigates how the central nervous system and the brain functions – surely this could help reduce the stigma attached to mental health problems?
Neuroscience can also show a child the underlying issue beneath their problem. Of course environment and life circumstances can contribute to depression, but it is also a physical process. Just as you can become sick with a cold, your brain can also become sick and children need to understand this.
Education needed to tackle ignorance
Ignorance about mental health can often lead to bullying, discrimination, worry and distress. It can prevent those suffering from seeking the relevant help and support for those around them.
A simple programme of education in schools could help to provide a long-term solution to ignorance about mental health and make it a more open topic of discussion. This work could be done by professionals talking to children in schools or as some suggest a better solution would be to add the brain itself into the national curriculum.