Right Here Brighton & Hove’s ‘You & Your NHS’ event was billed as an interactive and hands on session which aimed to get to the heart of young people’s experiences of our wonderful National Health Service; where it was doing well, and where it needed to pull it’s socks up.
The dire condition of the NHS of late is clear for all to see, systemic underfunding and low morale have stretched practices and hospitals thin all across the country. But now is not the time to mourn or to moan, now is the time us to get behind our beloved NHS, to roll up our sleeves and take a good look at what we can do to stem the tide, and get the NHS back on it’s feet with a clean bill of health.
The event was designed to facilitate discussion and exchange ideas regarding where the NHS is now, and where we want it to be in the future, with staff members form various positions within Brighton & Hove’s NHS network sitting among the rest of us to guide discussion and answer queries regarding the particularities of what is wrong, and what is possible.
Plenty of ideas were exchanged, but most interesting to me were discussions surrounding the mental health challenges that young people face and the ways in which the NHS could do more to help.
There is still considerable stigma attached to mental health problems, making it difficult for those who are suffering to talk about the challenges they are facing. We simply do not provide young people with the environment, or the means, to talk about how they are feeling in a casual, relaxed, and safe way. Where is the effort to develop the emotional literacy of young people so that they can speak about their feelings, worries, and problems in a clear, coherent, and confident way?
Dedicated and trained Mental Health Counselling in schools may be a Utopic vision, but it is a good place to aim (we all know that systemic underfunding is not a problem designated solely to the NHS). A shake-up to the curriculum would go a long way. If we took mental health seriously throughout a child’s education then each and every pupil would have a good understanding of how they work internally, of the fallibility of our brains and the ways in which people can develop serious mental illnesses. They would also be able to recognise some of the symptoms of poor mental health and would be confident and capable of engaging with people suffering from mental health problems in a positive and safe way.
I truly believe that it is a national embarrassment that our education system does next to nothing in this regard. From my own personal experiences, and those shared at the event last night, I cannot remember a single time during my 13 years of schooling that the topic of mental health was addressed seriously, formally, or even tacitly. How can one go through this country’s educational system without once looking inwards at what makes us tick as people, at what a healthy mental state looks and feels like, at the fragility of the human mind and the ways in which it should be protected and nourished. I had no frame of reference for my internality as a child, but a whole host of reference points relating to longshore drift, oxbow lakes, long division, and Henry VIII. I know which area I would have chosen to study then, and the choice remains the same now.
If we are to reduce the deeply saddening and deeply troubling mental health issues that plague so much of our country, from depression to schizophrenia, from anxiety to psychopathy, we need to understand them. An this can only start at school. It shouldn’t take someone getting onto a University course, or into a Sixth Form that offers Psychology, to introduce ideas of mental wellbeing and internal states of health. It should be something we are teaching children from the earliest of ages. Because how can we grow as a society if we don’t understand ourselves?