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Mental Health Awareness: Still Scarce in the 21st Century

Since coming to Solent, and starting my journey towards becoming a qualified journalist, I’ve started to really pay attention to, and question, what comes up in the news; the smaller local stories and the national stories which are reported and re-reported by numerous publications and platforms.

In the last few months I’ve begun to notice a recurring theme in a lot of these bigger stories.

We’ve seen the story of teen Will Cornick, the school boy who killed his teacher; there’s been a banker who killed and chopped up two women in  Hong Kong; a man who killed his father, cut him up with a chainsaw, and stored the body parts in plastic storage boxes; the little boy who was killed this week when (supposedly) his mother cut out his heart in a “ritual” style murder; and today, reports of a lady who killed, dismembered and cooked her neighbour.

These are pretty extreme stories, and the reason we’re noticing these more than most other stories is for that exact reason; these actions really are extreme.

But what I’ve noticed about most of these stories, if not all, is that mental health is either not mentioned at all, or is, for the most part, only mentioned in follow up stories and reports.

So, why is it that mental health is so quickly dismissed, and even ignored in many cases?

This weekend, I submitted my news feature, which was focused on a similar note to this blog – mental health. However, I focused on the Will Cornick story, and how mental health is dealt with in schools, including the support given to pupils who have mental health disorders and mental illnesses.

The simple answer to my question above seems to be this: People simply aren’t being educated about mental health. 

It’s true; while we think we know all we need to know about mental health, the reality is the complete opposite.

Another topic I’ve loosely covered in one of my assessments (which I’ll be doing on Thursday morning in the radio studios in Uni) is eating disorders. It may shock you to know that many people are either unaware of the fact that eating disorders are in fact a mental illness, or they simply don’t see it that way. But they are.

So, back to the feature article…

I interviewed a man this week who works for the Emotional First Aid Service in England; an organisation which essentially runs training courses for teachers and people who work with children and young people, to teach them about mental health, mental illnesses and problems, and how they can spot children who are in distress and in need of help or someone to reach out to them.

This gentleman was really quite an incredible person, and went above and beyond to give me all the information I could possibly need and want to write my article. But there was one thing that he said in particular which stood out to me, and this has been playing itself over in my head ever since:

“That young lad who stabbed his teacher to death [Will Cornick], he did not wake up that morning thinking he was going to stab somebody…. The media representation of young people is awful. They beefed that story up… it wasn’t quite like that. The signs were there, but they were not being read by the teaching staff.”

When we see a story like Will’s we instantly start labelling the person as “crazy”, “psycho”, and we look for somewhere to place the blame, or for someone to place the blame on. But what we often fail to remember or realise is that this kid really is mentally ill. People had seen the signs – fellow students had noticed ‘disturbing’ aspects to his personality, but nobody reached out to Will because they thought he was a ‘weirdo’.

This is where things went wrong for Will, and this is where things are going wrong for the other “psychos” in the press lately. The lack of education and understanding of mental illness means that people are too scared to reach out to them.

As a result of this, they don’t get the help they need. In Will’s case, this affects what professionals in mental health call “early intervention”.

Early intervention is exactly what it says on the tin, and there really isn’t enough of it in the treatment of youngsters who have mental health problems.

“Rates of mental health problems among children increase as they reach adolescence”, which means that something really needs to be done about these issues. (mentalhealth.org)

While we can say that the education system may have failed Will, as the NHS may have (points discussed in my feature), we must also hold ourselves accountable.

The attitudes towards mental health in today’s society are honestly and simply disgusting, and equally misdirected.

I sincerely hope that the education (or lack of) and stigma surrounding mental health changes or improves soon. Will Cornick was the first pupil to kill a teacher in a British classroom, and I sincerely hope he will be the last.

I will be posting my feature sometime in the next week or two.

In the meantime, take a look at the websites below to learn a little more about Emotional First Aid, and mental health:

welcome to emotional first aid…

http://www.mind.org.uk/

http://www.youngminds.org.uk/

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