Education is meant to prepare a young person for when they leave the school gates, and yet still we do not teach them healthy coping mechanisms or what to do if struggling.
All that is about to change, thanks to the efforts of one lad flying the flag for wellbeing.
Ben West is now spearheading his Save our Students campaign, by calling on the government to make mental health first aid a compulsory part of teacher training – with 308,275 supporters having signed the petition so far.
While it may sound daunting to people who just want to join the teaching profession to share their love of geography or history, mental health first aid training does not actually require anyone to ‘fix’ the problem or solve psychological issues.
Instead, the training enables someone to act more as an intermediary figure to help signpost a student who might be struggling to access the services they need.
The first aid is given until appropriate professional help is received, or the crisis resolves.
Speaking about his quest, Ben revealed that he started the mission after losing his younger brother to suicide in January 2018, when Sam was just 15-years-old.
Ben believes that the training will provide teachers with tools to ‘walk alongside’ students in emotional crisis and start a conversation with someone who may have difficulties.
WARNING: SOME READERS MAY FIND THE CONTENT BELOW DISTRESSING
Ben said: “I sat on my bed that Sunday evening, unaware that only a few metres away from me my brother was about to take his own life.
“I heard screams through the headphones and ran upstairs at 9.30pm. I did emergency resuscitation for almost half an hour before the mass of emergency services arrived.
“No one should ever have to experience the loss and confusion of losing someone to suicide. I hope that this petition can save at least one family the awful pain I’ve had to and continue to face.”
Following his brother’s death, Ben began to research ways in which he could help young people suffering with mental health conditions in schools and discovered how ill-equipped staff were to deal with problems faced by some students in our 24/7 world.
The campaigner continued: “Very few staff members have training of any level. That’s why I’m calling on the government to train teachers in mental health first aid so that they have the knowledge to help if they do feel they should step in and start a conversation.
“It would be very cost effective to run, outlining potential problems faced by students and offer suggestions to staff on what to do. It would advise staff on who to contact about the student to start putting into place the support they need as quickly as possible.”
Ben believes that just as there are many teachers capable of dealing with physical medical emergencies, it’s about time there is parity with mental health problems too.
He explained: “Most schools have a single specialist physical first aider as well as having a mass of teachers with knowledge of first aid.
“I don’t think an epicentre of mental health support is the right way of dealing with the issue, instead we should have a more broad knowledge.”
With three students per class now having a diagnosable mental health condition, and four schoolchildren losing their life to suicide every week, there has never been a more urgent time to revamp teacher training to help staff protect our future generations.
Ben concluded: “I wholeheartedly believe this isn’t an excessive measure to take, it’s a desperate one.”
To sign the petition, click here: Ben West.
For confidential advice, contact the Samaritans.