Mental health campaigner Lucy McSweeney wants to shake up mental health education in schools

Following her own journey with mental health, Lucy McSweeney is petitioning for better mental health education in schools.
TORIKA TOKALAU/FAIRFAX NZ

Following her own journey with mental health, Lucy McSweeney is petitioning for better mental health education in schools.

A petition calling for compulsory mental health education in New Zealand schools is gaining momentum.

The petition, launched earlier this month, has been signed by nearly 3000 people.

It was started by Mt Eden resident Lucy McSweeney, 21, who hoped to use her personal battle with mental health to raise the standard of mental health education in schools.

McSweeney, a university student in Auckland, said she suffered mental health issues towards the final years of high school. 

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"I wasn't prepared to deal with it, and also importantly, neither were my friends - it is tough and scary for young people to see their friend change," she said. 

"All young Kiwis need to know how to best keep themselves well and support each other."

 ​Ministry of Education's spokesman Karl Le Quesne said mental health education was compulsory in all schools for year 9 and year 10 student through the subject health which covered stressful situations, loss and grief.

However, schools are self managed and are required to work closely with their school communities to draft their own health curriculums specific to their needs, he said.

Currently the Ministry of Education requires every year 9 student's mental health and family mental health to be assessed.

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Students are given information on how to access help at school.

After year 10 health subjects are not compulsory but students have access to councillors.

"It seems crazy to me that health classes are only compulsory up to year 10 when so many stressful changes happen in the senior years of high schools - that's when you're learning how to become an independent adult," McSweeney said.

Otahuhu College principal Neil Watson said a more effective way to approach mental health education was to integrate it into the entire school curriculum from year 9 to year 13.

"Many schools now have a multidisciplinary approach where students with any issues are identified early in line with best practice in youth health," Watson said.

Mt Albert Grammar School headmaster Pat Drumm said mental health education should not be just part of a curriculum but a school culture.

Drumm said it's important for schools to create a friendly and supportive environment.​

 - Stuff

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