A healthy head is just as important as a healthy heart
At school, we’re taught plenty of specific ways about how to take care of ourselves physically. Exercise four times a week for at least 30 minutes - because it can be kinda fun to run around anyway. Drink, but don’t get plastered. Eat two fruit and five veg a day.
It’s all handy advice. Those principles go out the window sometimes, but if you’ve been taught them years ago in a classroom in the first place then you’re more likely to get back on track.
And we can often tell if we need to be taking better care of our bodies. There are telltale signs: stiffness from lack of exercise, tighter belts, beginning to resemble one of those exercise balls people do ab crunches on.
But it’s a lot more difficult to figure out when we’re not mentally healthy. We don’t know how to take care of our brains as well as we do our bodies.
It’s easy to look in the mirror and realise you’re fat. It’s not as easy to self-diagnose whether you’ve just been a bit sad lately or whether you’re depressed and need help, and it doesn’t help that it’s more socially acceptable to say you have a heart problem than a head problem.
It’s at school where this should be changing. Because the incidence of mental illness is highest in 18 to 24 year olds, and one in five Australians experience a mental illness in any year. It’s Australia’s third biggest disability burden. A burden that leading mental health advocates like Pat McGorry argue could best be eased with early intervention.
It was reported today that from the middle of the year, the Black Dog Institute will begin rolling out a $500,000 program for mental health classes for kids in Years 9 and 10 in New South Wales. The program will expand to Queensland and then to the rest of Australia in coming years. The Daily Telegraph said:
Under the program teachers will be trained to deliver messages on key mental health issues including mood disorders, at-risk personality types, recognising symptoms, the benefits of therapy and how to build resilience.
Data shows the number of children in public schools with mental health disorders, including depression and serious behavioural disorders, has almost doubled to 8000 over the past eight years.
The Institute will train 1500 high school teachers across the country how to teach this over the next three years. It’s a good idea. There hasn’t been enough of this sort of stuff though.
That’s not to say young people aren’t equipped by schools with a better understanding of mental health now than their parents were at their age. It’s the 21st century and the NSW PDHPE syllabus covers mental health in years 7-10 at a couple of intervals, as well as topics like stress and how to get help. Stuff that I’m sure they weren’t teaching at school decades ago.
But it’s clear that we don’t have the principles of a healthy mind engrained into us from a young age as much as we do for healthy bodies. It’s tougher for people to say, figure out what the telltale signs are that your brain needs a break, or determine whether it’s your own chronic moodiness affecting your relationships rather than the actions of others.
There’s no greater indication that the mental health problems of kids aren’t taken as seriously as those of adults than the furore over the weekend at how the Federal Government last year provided $18.2 million to cover the costs of calls from mobile phones to Lifeline, but not to the Kids Helpline, which receives 50 per cent more calls - 70 per cent of all calls from mobiles.
Our heads are just as important as our hearts. Our kids need to learn that from the very beginning.
Read all about it
Up to the minute Twitter chatter
The latest and greatest
Good morning Punchers. After four years of excellent fun and great conversation, this is the final post…
I have had some close calls, one that involved what looked to me like an AK47 pointed my way, followed…
In a world in which there are still people who subscribe to the vile notion that certain victims of sexual…