Guest Blog #4 Tom Boldy : Is there enough mental health education in schools?

A preface by Brian Padden
How can a child with an unrealistic view on mental ill health recognise problems with their own mental health?
A report by the Children’s Commissioner in October 2017 looked into children’s perceptions of mental illness. Children from a whole range of ages were asked, “What does mental mean?” Their replies included “crazy, evil, horrible angry and criminal”. A follow-up question: “If you saw someone who was mental, what would they be doing?” was answered with descriptions of people displaying psychosis and psychotic episodes such as violence, rocking back and forth and pulling at their own hair.
Whilst these can all be a manifestation of mental health problems, it showed a strong stereotype towards extreme mental health problems.  Children’s lack of awareness of other mental health problems such as anxiety and depression can often mean they are suffering from a diagnosable and treatable condition. Unfortunately, many do not realise and therefore the condition remains untreated and becomes much worse.
There is a growing call for more education in schools to highlight to children the signs and symptoms of mental ill health. Our guest blogger, Tom Boldy from Bingley in West Yorkshire, is a sports graduate and trainee teacher. Aged 21, Tom has struggled with mental health problems throughout primary school, secondary school and university. He is a popular and seemingly care-free guy. His own problems came to a head with an attempted suicide; he has undergone a course of Cognitive Behaviour Therapy (CBT) and now, as well as training to be a teacher, he is speaking in schools and colleges to educate children on spotting the signs of mental health issues and where to seek help. Here, Tom talks openly about his experiences and how he has overcome his problems and shares his tips on coping with mental health problems.
Tom Boldy
One in four will experience a mental health illness at some stage during their life. Figures produced from research on suicide and mental health illnesses show that 75% of people who take their own lives have never been diagnosed with a mental health problem. This particular figure highlights the importance of seeking help, talking about your thoughts and feelings and the need for the discrimination and stigma surrounding mental health as a taboo to end.
The NHS do an amazing job of supporting and helping people with the very little funding and staff they have to cope with the demands set upon them, only 5% of people who do suffer from depression and have been clinically diagnosed as being depressed, go on to take their own lives.
By educating our future generations at an early stage in their life (school) this could provide the children with knowledge of mental illnesses and ways and means of getting support and helping if they ever happen to suffer with an illness.
My experience of school and the lack of support I received
Whilst I was at school, I was at a point in my life where I lost loved ones and I found it hard to understand and deal with my emotions/feelings following these hard times. I never experienced any education on mental health, there was never any discussions delivered by teachers or guest speakers. We never had a mental health day, something that is becoming more common within schools these days. I think it is so beneficial to educate and promote an open atmosphere that will hopefully increase the likelihood of children talking and accepting they need support. I struggled to accept and understand what I was dealing with until I reached 21 – this is when I reached out and sought help. I believe my teachers and school, in general, could have done so much more to support not just myself but other classmates. The atmosphere never felt like I could open up and talk about what I was feeling. This made me feel isolated, ashamed and scared to talk. I masked my feelings for a very long time and the energy it consumed doing so was ridiculous and eventually nearly ended with an attempted suicide.
My own teaching attributes
Within the college that I teach at, there is a mental health team located inside the college, we have national mental health days and there are posters located around the college. This is a great feeling as it shows they are actively trying to make a change and make the atmosphere feel safe and secure, for students that need help. Within my own lessons, I often aim to include discussions based around mental health within a sporting context. This relates to the context of my lessons (sport) but also helps to educate and allow the students a voice to openly share experiences and issues surrounding mental health. I openly share my experiences with my students and advise them to contact me with any issues or problems they are facing, this is so they know that they aren’t alone and do indeed have someone to help them through the dark days.
I only started to open up and get help after I had a breakdown that nearly saw me end my life…my friends and family were unaware of the mental torment I was going through. I didn’t open up or seek help and felt ashamed. I didn’t understand why I was feeling like that and I felt so alone even though I was usually surrounded by friends and loving people. PLEASE seek help, even if it’s a phone call to a helpline, or if it’s a message to a friend/family member. You aren’t alone and you have so much to offer and bring to people’s lives. When I spread awareness and talk openly about my thoughts and feelings I truly feel a weight being lifted off my shoulders…it leaves me feeling refreshed and ready to combat any battle or obstacle in front of me, physically or mentally. Below are five tips I would strongly recommend to follow if you are finding university life hard to cope with.

  • Seek help, TALK to a tutor, friend, family member, helpline, GP.
  • Exercise…this increases the serotonin levels in the brain (the chemical that decreases when depressed).
  • Take every day as it comes, if you are feeling low, know that every day is a fresh start.
  • Positive thinking…appreciate every little thing that you have. Eyesight, sense of touch, hearing, ability to communicate, walk. Think about things we often take for granted.
  • Meditation is a great way of releasing stress and refreshing the mind and body.

Thank you for reading this blog. If anyone would like to contact me personally to talk about their thoughts and feelings I’m only a message away…
Facebook: Thomas Boldy
Twitter: TBoldy95
Instagram: TomBoldy95
A postface by Brian Padden

Figures from the Office of National Statistics (ONS) show one in ten children have a diagnosable mental health, yet 70% of children and adolescents who experience mental health problems have not had appropriate interventions at a sufficiently early age, according to The Children’s Society. Despite the fact that 50% of mental health problems are established by age 14, schools do not routinely educate on identifying neither mental health nor do they employ mental health professionals.
There has recently been a lot more publicity about children’s mental health. Princes William and Harry’s Heads Together Campaign is helping to raise awareness and charities such as Place2Be are also doing great work in highlighting the problems being faced by our school children. However, for many of the children we work with, their Evolve Health Mentor is the only person they feel able to talk to about their feelings. In a recent newspaper interview about his work in schools Tom explained, “if I had had someone come into school when I was younger to talk about it, it would have made a huge difference for me.”