To: The Minister of Education
The ACT Campaign for Mental Health Education
We want five changes to the current education system:
1) Make mental health education mandatory as an independent subject in the curriculum.
2) Make sure that this education is being maintained and kept to a high standard through inspections.
3) Have a mental health lead in each school.
4) More communication between schools and the HSE mental health services.
5) Prioritise the mental health of teachers.
Why is this important?
I am not criticising teachers. They are already overwhelmed with looking after the academic, emotional, social, physical and mental development of their students. I am not criticising schools. They are just doing their best to remain open to provide education for our future generations. And I am not blaming the government. They have the difficult job of choosing what departments get funding, and what departments unfortunately miss out. Instead, this campaign is emphasising that we as a society need to keep up to date with how the world is changing. According to UNICEF, Ireland ranks number 4 in the EU for adolescent suicide rates and number 1 in the EU for female adolescent suicide rates. On top of this, the number of young girls aged 10 – 14 presenting with self harm has risen by 189% in the last 10 years. It is very clear that we have a problem.
The SPHE (Social, Personal and Health Education) curriculum has not been updated in 20 years and think about how much the world has changed since 1999. If you read the SPHE curriculum, it states several fabricated outcomes such as teaching children self-confidence, how to deal with difficult feelings and how to cope with new situations. But there is no evidence that this curriculum is working? In fact, the statistics are showing that it is not working. And the new situations they spoke about in 1999 are very different to the new situations today. SPHE is really important and the curriculum is actually very well written. It is essentially teaching children how to successfully operate as independent individuals; how to live. However, it is squeezed into 30 minutes a week, which is absolute madness. Imagine saying that we are trying to promote the academic development of a child and then putting maths, English, history, geography, business and science all together into one subject and teaching it for a half an hour a week. As I've said, madness. But yet this continues with SPHE.
Mental health is one of the biggest problems among children and adolescents at the moment and we haven’t done anything to try and change that? Intervention is important but prevention is more effective, both in terms of health and financial outcomes. Global warming is clearly happening and there are people flying less, becoming vegan and recycling more (which is fantastic). On the other hand, there are children taking their lives as young as 10 and the only thing we’re doing is telling people to talk? Just have a think about that for a second.
This is important because it can save lives. The consequences of not seeing this change is children continuing to have a low quality of life or worse again, taking their lives and leaving behind devastated families. Don't wait until there is a problem. Change the curriculum and the education around mental health and we'l see the stigma reduced, we'l promote the potential of every child and we'l prevent problems before they happen. Thank you.