Writing

IS OUR EDUCATION SYSTEM FAILING STUDENTS WITH MENTAL ILLNESSES

“The signs were not read by the teaching staff”, says the Manager of the Emotional First Aid Service. Could a lack of knowledge amongst Britain’s teachers be to blame for Will Cornick’s actions?

On November 3rd, 16-year-old Will Cornick was sentenced to a minimum of 20 years in prison for the murder of his Spanish teacher, Ann Maguire.

Cornick, then aged 15, attacked the 61-year-old from behind, stabbing her seven times with a 21cm kitchen knife, and chased her as she attempted to escape the room.

Prosecutor Paul Greaney QC spoke of Will’s “psychopathic tendencies”, while Mr Justice Coulson said that it is “quite possible” Cornick will never be released.

While this case is unique, it poses the question: is the British education system capable of dealing with mental health issues like those faced by Will Cornick?

Statistics from mental health charity Young Minds show that mental health in young people is a consistent issue, with “1 in 10 children and young people aged 5-16 suffering from a diagnosable mental health disorder”.

This is a significant time frame in a child’s school career; a time where children thrive off the support and understanding of their teachers.

Kayleigh, a blogger for Time to Change, who is now a qualified teacher, spoke of her experiences while she was at school. She said:

“On antidepressants by age 13, and antipsychotics by age 15, I felt I was in a living nightmare.

“My school was fully aware that I was under psychiatric care, as my psychotherapists liaised with them regularly. But my school did nothing… schools have a duty of care to safeguard their students, and while I was quickly spiralling out of control, they did nothing to stop that.”

While a lack of understanding of mental illnesses in society has always been apparent, we must ask ourselves why the mental health problems of pupils like Will Cornick go unnoticed, or, in Kayleigh’s case, are even ignored during their time at school.

Stuart Gemmell, Strategic Lead for Primary Mental Health Services in Southampton, and Manager of the Emotional First Aid Service, says: “As teachers… they are not taught about children’s emotions. Educationalists say, ‘Why should we be worrying about people’s emotional health, their mental health? My job is to teach’. We need to revisit notions of young people and children having basic needs met.”

While it could be said that schools play a key role in recognising and supporting young people like Will Cornick, and perhaps aren’t meeting these responsibilities, could it be that the NHS is not fulfilling its role in combatting mental health either?

With many sufferers going undiagnosed, or receiving the wrong treatment, symptoms often become more severe as patients grow older.

Mentalhealth.org states that “rates of mental health problems among children increase as they reach adolescence”.

With early intervention being an area which needs more investment, it is brought to our attention that the government and education system need to work more closely with the NHS to ensure that those with mental illnesses, particularly young people, are given the support and care they require.

While the investment in adult mental health was £6.629 billion between the years 2011-2012, Young Minds’ most recent survey, found that 67 per cent of councils reduced funding for the children and adolescent mental health service (CAMHS) since 2010; Southampton City Council reduced their budget by 9 per cent during this time.

NHS England will invest a further £120million over the next two years on improving mental health services; however, it is unclear how much of this will be invested in CAMHS and similar services.

In her blog, Kayleigh added: “The time to end mental health stigma is now; we need to keep people in schools and colleges, by ensuring that mental health issues are understood and discussed, not hidden away.”

This is evident in Cornick’s case. However, Stuart Gemmell voiced concerns that Will’s story isn’t all it seems: “He did not wake up that morning thinking he was going to stab somebody. The media representation of young people is awful… it wasn’t quite like that. The signs were there, but they were not being read by the teaching staff.”

So, where do we go from here? According to Stuart Gemmell, the answer lies within our schools: “It’s about teaching teachers to take a step towards children who they see are having difficulties.”

The fight against bad press for those with mental illnesses should begin with today’s youth and teachers being properly educated about mental health.

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