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Highgate teens win campaign to see mental health taught in schools

PUBLISHED: 08:00 28 November 2014

Sophia Parvizi Wayne and Amber Van Dam campaign for mental health classes to be made compulsory in all schools. Picture: Polly Hancock

Sophia Parvizi Wayne and Amber Van Dam campaign for mental health classes to be made compulsory in all schools. Picture: Polly Hancock

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Two schoolgirls fighting to have mental health taught as part of the national curriculum have succeeded in their campaign.

Highgate School pupils Sophia Parvisi Wayne and Amber Van Dam’s almost year-long battle reached a high point this week as the government took the girls’ message on board and announced all children are to be given mental health tuition in school.

The announcement on Friday, by Sam Gyimah MP, minister for childcare and education, means mental health will be taught in PSHE lessons. Experts will also advise schools on how to make the lessons “a place where mental health needs are identified and support is provided sympathetically”.

The 17-year-olds’ campaign was launched after the pair saw first-hand the effects of anorexia and became determined to fight what they saw as a rising problem of young people suffering the disorder.

Launched in the Ham&High in January, it saw the teenagers travel to Parliament to speak with James Morris MP, the chairman of the Mental Health All-Party Parliamentary Group (APPG). They also spoke in the House of Lords.

The teenagers said: “It’s really exciting to see what we were campaigning for achieved. We didn’t think it would get this far, so we’re thrilled.

“We look forward to speaking with Mr Gyimah so we can talk through our own ideas on the policy. It’s essential young people have a say in what the curriculum looks like.

“It needs to be taught right and the best way is to make sure young people’s voices are heard.”

According to Mr Gyimah, more than half of adults with a mental health problem were first diagnosed in childhood and, of that number, fewer than half were treated appropriately as children.

One in 10 people aged 16 and under has a mental health problem in the UK, with nearly 80,000 young people suffering from depression.

Speaking at the Children and Young People Now awards, the minister said: “Some young people don’t speak up because they don’t really understand the support that’s available for them.

“They don’t see mental health services as something that can make a real difference to their lives.

“Just earlier this week, I saw for myself the importance of listening to, and working with, young people themselves.

“The group of girls I met in Islington on Monday saw their school’s character-building enrichment activities, the vibrant PSHE curriculum and the support provided by their form tutors, pastoral lead and on-site psychologist as part and parcel of a single whole-school approach to their well-being.

“They knew where to get help if they had problems. They knew how to support their friends if they suspected something was wrong.

“And this visit to Islington showed me two things. One - the need to put young people at the heart of our approach.

“And two, what good mental health provision looks like - the school took early identification and prevention so seriously that they screened all of their year 7 pupils.

“So, I think there’s cause to be optimistic. I really think we’re starting to see an attitude shift in society.

“No longer is there the same level of stigma behind mental health conditions. But I know we need to do more if this attitude shift is to continue in the right direction.”

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