December 10, 2012

Student stands on desk in classroom | Stand up Kid | Time to Change tv adThe mis-en-scene is miserable, saturated in a grey wash. The beleaguered teacher, sarcastic and scruffy, sets the titles for the class. The assignment: Pygmalion, the story of the transformation of a statue - literally set in stone - into an enlightened, fully rounded human being.

The scene presents a prison-like atmosphere, people trapped in a cold, uninspiring room. The students sit apathetic and bored. When our hero comes in he is met with the derisive comments of his teacher and the banter of his mates. When he makes his speech it is accepted with compassion and understanding- he is not forced to sit down and silenced by his teacher or laughed at by his peers.

This is a powerful piece of film that encourages a new generation to speak out about their illnesses.

Leading figure in mental ilnness, Kay Redfield Jamison, said that as soon as something becomes treatable it is no longer taboo. Mental illnesses are controllable and treatable but are still considered unmentionable and must be avoided.

Young people can be have these prejudices too and I’ve witnessed some laugh at the behaviours of people with mental health problems. At the school where I worked as a teacher the students wanted to let me in on their hilarious accounts of one of their peers, last seen rummaging through Biffa bins in the town centre. He disappeared from school months earlier after being diagnosed schizophrenic.

Children laugh and snigger when they feel uncomfortable or don't understand a situation

Why are young people so cruel? I'm not sure they always are. Yes there are the bullies but there are bullies in the adult world. Children laugh and snigger at vulnerable people. Children laugh and snigger when they feel uncomfortable or don't understand a situation. It's a default mechanism. The same as when an adult laughs uncomfortably when unexpectedly confronted by a rude person in the supermarket. Yet children are capable of changing their views and can understand things maturely if a subject like mental health is taught with the respect and honesty it deserves.

Do children have an uncaring or ambivalent attitude towards mental illness? If so, why? Let's go back to that teacher in the film. My initial reaction was to despise him. I've met many like him over the years, many a lot worse, many borderline violent! I thought that his sarcastic comments were typical of those of the uncaring professionals that are becoming more prevalent in the profession.

I recognised myself in him

Then I recognised myself in him: that defeated tone in his voice and the realisation that he now has to play a month's worth of catch up if our hero is going to achieve his target grades. I know this piece is about young people but I think it is important to understand the environment that they are being educated in.

The stress put on students to achieve grades is immense. There is nothing wrong with 'aspirational' grades and encouraging people to strive for better but the constant pressure for students to 'better' themselves is having damaging effects. This culture has little time for emotional well being. Its very nature means that every scrap of time must be accounted for and that there is no place for flexibility, let alone time out from the stress. If the students get through their exams intact and get excellent grades they are then told the exams were too easy and they have been spoon fed to pass them.

One student said that they would be scared as the depressed student has nothing left to lose and might kill other people instead!

Older students, as in sixth form, have already adopted the ostrich method. A level students have told me their own accounts of friends that attempted suicide and how they have avoided the subject on their return. One student said that they would be scared as the depressed student has nothing left to lose and might kill other people instead!

As with the rest of society, mental health is misunderstood in education. It is not taught in PSHE as part of the course. Instead they are taught about drugs, alcohol and pregnancy. If a student takes A level Psychology then subject maybe touched upon. Maybe because everyone could be on the edge of it people don't want to educate about it. 1 in 4 will be affected by mental health problems in any given year but there are 1 in 13 adults with alcohol addiction and 1 in 10 that have taken illicit drugs. So young people are more vulnerable to and more likely to know someone with a mental illness yet it isn't discussed or taught in schools.

This piece of film will hopefully allow young people to speak about their mental health

This piece of film will hopefully allow young people to speak about their mental health and not see it as an embarrassing problem. If young people are able to speak up and be heard, maybe they can begin to educate the adults.

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