Princess Diana and Winston Churchill's mental health experiences to be used to teach children how to cope with 'the black dog'

Rozina Sabur
Princess Diana will be used as a role model to teach pupils about tackling mental health issues - Rex Features

Princess Diana and Winston Churchill's mental health experiences are to be used to teach children how to avoid 'the black dog' of depression in school lessons.

They are among a number of figures who have spoken out about their own struggles and feature in a scheme aimed at reducing the stigma around mental health. 

Princess Diana spoke candidly about her depression, her struggles with the eating disorder bulimia and self-harming in a 1995 interview with the BBC's Panorama programme.

 Princess Diana Credit: VINCENT ALMAVY 

The princess is among a number of well known figures, including former footballer David Beckham and the late Star Wars actress Carrie Fisher, who may be discussed on the scheme.

Diana's friend Rosa Monckton said she welcomed the scheme. "There is no doubt that mental health is a huge issue with the youth of today, and it was in the public domain that Diana had these problems," she told the Mail on Sunday.

"To have overcome them in the way she did while being in the public eye was fairly extraordinary."

Former England captain Beckham has also spoken publicly about his obsessive compulsive disorder which leaves him addicted to arranging things in straight lines or pairs.

"I'll go into a hotel room and before I can relax, I have to move all the leaflets and all the books and put them in a drawer. Everything has to be perfect," he revealed in a 2006 interview with ITV.

The Department for Education are hoping to trial the scheme in around 135 schools, with children as young as eight being taught mindfulness and relaxation techniques.  

In a separate trial, children in secondary schools will have classes from teachers trained to deliver The Mental Health And High School Curriculum Guide in a UK first.

The guide, which was developed in Canada, claims to have shown "significant and substantial positive impacts on improvement in teachers’ and students’ knowledge and a decrease in stigma".

The curriculum's first module is on famous people who have lived with a mental health illness in which students research one person from a list of prominent figures.

Winston Churchill Credit: H. F. Davis /GettyImages

Those on the list include Winston Churchill, who suffered from periods of depression which he referred to as 'black dogs'; the novelist Virginia Woolf, who was thought to be bipolar and the Nirvana singer Kurt Cobain, who was also bipolar and was diagnosed with attention deficit disorder as a child.

The module also lists Abraham Lincoln, who battled clinical depression; Charles Darwin, who suffered from agoraphobia - a fear of open spaces; singers Janet Jackson (depression) and Britney Spears (who has spoken in the past about being bipolar); and actors Robin Williams (depression and dementia) and Jim Carrey (bipolar).

The trial follows a pledge by Prime Minister Theresa May to "transform" attitudes to mental health, and calls by Sir Anthony Seldon, former headmaster of Wellington College, for schools to boost children's wellbeing. 

The Royal Family have also championed mental health causes, with princes William and Harry both speaking publicly of the importance to remove stigma from mental health sufferers.

A Department for Education spokesman said: "‎It is vital that all children and young people get the help and support they need and deserve. It is up to schools how and whether to measure the wellbeing of pupils. 

“We know that schools often want to provide specific interventions to promote the mental wellbeing of their pupils but sometimes struggle to know what approaches to use. That is why we have announced plans to do further research trials in schools on what interventions work best.

“We also want to strengthen the links between schools and local NHS mental health staff, backed by an additional £1.4 billion government investment.”

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