Agenda: Tackling the stigma of mental health with the next generation

·3-min read
Wendy Halliday, director of See Me
Wendy Halliday, director of See Me

By Wendy Halliday

“CHILDREN should be seen and not heard” is a phrase that echoed round classrooms decades ago. And it’s one which I think needs to be retired for good.

We’re only just beginning to see what impact the loss and change of the pandemic has had on young people’s mental health – and we need to make sure that we’re creating safe places where young people feel able to talk, especially in schools.

At See Me, Scotland’s programme to end mental health stigma and discrimination, we carried out some research to understand how our young people are getting on after a tough couple of years.

While awareness is up, there’s still a gap when it comes to talking about their own mental health – and stigma and fear of discrimination are blocking the way.

More than two-thirds (69 per cent) told us that they would worry about being judged or dismissed if they told someone they were struggling with their mental health.

So how do you create a world where mental health isn’t just spoken about in the abstract, but where people – of all ages – can talk about what’s going on in their own lives and be supported?

By working together.

For too long, we’ve assumed what young people want and need when it comes to mental health – but by including them in the conversation and giving them the chance to tell us what works, we’ve got a real opportunity to make a difference.

We’ve spent the last two years working with our youth champions and schools across Scotland to develop a new programme which does that.

The See Me See Change approach delivers training for staff and pupils on mental health stigma and discrimination and how to tackle it, before bringing the two groups together – on an equal footing – to action plan the steps they’ll take to address stigma in their school.

It’s all about creating the conditions that help people to talk more openly, while giving schools the tools they need to respond to young people’s needs.

It’s a straightforward concept, and one which is already making an impact. Our pilot schools have fed back that they’re taking forward ideas which wouldn’t have occurred to staff – and their pupils feel a real sense of pride and ownership over the project.

By giving them a seat at the table and really listening to what they have to say, we’re not just tackling a huge issue, but helping our young people to develop the confidence and leadership skills that will help them flourish in adult life.

We’re not going to tackle stigma if we can’t give people the space they need to talk about mental health. Encouraging young people to be open is going to have a knock-on effect into the next generation – in homes, workplaces, key services and beyond.

Children – and young people – should be seen, heard and celebrated. And I have every confidence that they’re the key to tackling the stigma that still exists around mental health in Scotland today.

Wendy Halliday is the director of See Me, Scotland’s programme to end mental health stigma and discrimination