Why we need better mental health education in Ireland
Adam talks about why the young people of Ireland deserve to be taught properly about mental health
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In summer of 2013 I had just finished my first year of secondary school. As a young teenager, my hobbies consisted of going through puberty and finding ways to not die of sheer boredom. School was a welcome change from my usual schedule of doing nothing. When June came along and school came to an end I became lost as what to do. My mind became incredibly overwhelmed with the sudden change, and as a response, I began having panic attacks from abandoning my daily routine.
Being totally unclear as to why I was having panic attacks, or what was causing them, I presumed I had become possessed by a demon whose sole purpose was to make me feel like I was in an infinite pool of fear. The panic attacks only became worse, and I had developed what I would later find out to be agoraphobia. Agoraphobia is defined as a “type of anxiety disorder in which you fear and avoid places or situations that might cause you to panic and make you feel trapped, helpless or embarrassed.” I couldn’t leave the house out of fear of having an attack, and sometimes sitting at the dinner table was almost too difficult to bear. This feeling lasted the whole summer, and eventually went away when I went back to school that August.
This became my annual tradition every summer, sometimes even sneaking in during the winter months as a little surprise. My mind became infatuated with my panic attacks, and I would spend hours online searching for some kind of quick fix to solve my pain. I found very little, and instead began to think that I was simply crazy.
This was until I found out that what I had was anxiety, and that there were millions of people just like me. I found great comfort in knowing I was not alone, and over the years I found healthy coping mechanisms in mindfulness and simply just talking to people about how I felt. Today, five years after that summer, I no longer feel like the kid who is afraid of everything, and I am proud of who I have become.
But even though I was able to get through my own personal hell, I wish I never had to go through it in the first place. In my five years of secondary school, the only times I had read about anxiety and depression was in SPHE (social, personal and health education), a subject that does not require any exams. As a result, it’s treated as a time for students to do their homework or throw small pieces of rubber at unsuspecting victims, which apparently is the funniest thing to ever grace the earth according to the mind of a teenage boy.
All the information I had learned about anxiety and depression came from my online research, never from a classroom. In my last two years of secondary school, I saw a push on mental health awareness with posters put up on walls telling you that it is “ok to not feel ok,” a message that I agree with, but is simply not enough.
Labelling every mental health issue as “not feeling okay,” is not what young people should be taught. The young people of Ireland deserve to be taught properly about mental health because no child should feel like the outcast. It’s hard to deny that we are going through a dark time as a country. The homeless crisis is damaging the very structure of our society. Unemployment remains quite high in many counties. And while the numbers are decreasing, many of us have friends, family and neighbours who take their lives every year. It’s hard to stay positive when everything around you is falling apart, but with the right mindset, changing your perspective on a situation can make the world of difference.
This is where I believe the introduction of mental health education into schools’ curriculum could really change the future of Ireland. If schools were to teach children from a young age how to empathise with one another, and how to cope and identify with their feelings, we could create a more tolerating country and one that people would be proud to live in. Since children spend so much time in school, it makes sense that much of their development takes place there. If children were taught how to become more accepting of themselves and others, we might see some of the most positive changes the country has ever experienced. We have had an excellent few years in becoming a more progressive country, so why stop here? Children are our future, so let’s make sure our country, and our world, is in the best hands.
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