How Florence's experience of stigma at Primary School shaped her life
Last week the government announced that mental health education will be made compulsory in England and that pupils will be taught how to build mental resilience as well as how to recognise when their peers are struggling. One of our young supporters - Flo, looks back at her tricky time at school and reflects on this new announcement.
The time I spent at my primary school wasn’t great. My mental health issues started at the age of eight and I was excluded from school as they felt my depression and panic attacks were scaring the other children. The teachers had no understanding about mental health and showed zero compassion, tolerance or understanding. (Picture shows Flo in happier times at a different school).
While I was becoming unwell, my teachers seemed to be more concerned about performance targets and concentrating on the higher achievers. What I needed was help and support, instead I was removed from school and made to feel like a freak - socially unacceptable and with no chance of a future. The process left me a prisoner in my own home for many years and left me with what I felt was a permanent label. Despite this I have been home schooled and I’m incredibly proud of what I have achieved.
Looking back at my time in school, it struck me that the teachers had no understanding of mental health or the necessary time to support me. I feel I’ve lost my childhood because of my exclusion and lost contact with all my friends.
I wish there was someone, a teacher or a pupil who understood the feelings I felt and who could have of supported me through the shame – and maybe help me picture what a future would look like. Instead I was left to cope by myself. The sad reality is I have only been able to embrace my mental illness in the last four years now that I'm finished with the education system and only now can I start to picture what the future will look like.
I believe these plans from the government are a step in the right direction. Educating pupils about mental health would have stopped me feeling like freak and helped my friends understand what I was going through and given them the tools to ask questions and help rather than feel afraid.
But so many changes need to happen. Teachers need to have full training to understand the warning signs of mental illness and they need to show support and sympathy for their pupils. We need to never exclude kids with mental health problems from school – if I would have been allowed to stay in classes then it would not have felt like I had lost so much of my childhood and the experiences my peers had.
While Autumn 2020 feels like a long time away, I feel this sounds about right given the vast amount of works that needs to be done to create a mental health framework that can be understood by teacher and pupils. It will need genuine input from people like myself, people who know what it is like to experience a mental illness at school.
I hope this new initative will go some way to ensuring that young people do not face the challenges that I did. While my school experience was unpleasant and not the happiest of times, it has made me even more determined to work as a media volunteer and use my passion to campaign for better mental health education for people like me.