A petition to make mental health education compulsory within the Northern Ireland curriculum has been raised at Stormont.
Established by Carrickfergus Grammar School pupil Sara Patterson, the document was presented to the Assembly on Monday morning by East Antrim MLA Roy Beggs.
Over 600 people signed the online and paper versions of the petition, which is addressed to Education Minister John O’Dowd.
Speaking at the Assembly, Mr Beggs said: “The pressures on young people today are different to previous generations. There is increased pressure on achieving academic results and fewer young people are active in terms of sport and less time is being spent outside in the natural environment.
“The internet, computer gaming and social media can also create problems in terms of isolation and internet bullying can lead to the loss of self-esteem and mental ill-health.”
Praising the initiative taken by the teenager was Edward Gorringe, chief executive of mental health charity MindWise. He said: “Young people can be a particularly difficult group to reach but finding better ways of supporting their mental health and well-being is of paramount importance.
“Bringing the issue into the classroom will help young people tackle serious concerns such as suicide prevention, and promote better understanding of conditions such as depression, anxiety disorders, schizophrenia or bi-polar disorder.”
“The proposals suggested include introducing classes as part of the existing Citizenship component of the curriculum.
“Whilst schools can currently elect to address mental health and wellbeing with pupils, MindWise supports making this a mandatory component.
“I commend Sara for bringing forward her petition. Helping others to take control of their lives is a critical message at the heart of what we do as an organisation, and part of our own campaign to breakdown stigma and promote recovery from mental illness.”