Mental Health Education in Schools — [Mr Graham Brady in the Chair]

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 6:15 pm on 6th November 2017.

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Photo of Chris Ruane Chris Ruane Shadow Minister (Wales) 6:15 pm, 6th November 2017

I absolutely agree with the hon. Lady. That is what is happening in mindfulness research. Bangor University is looking at mindfulness for the baby in the womb. The biggest cause of low birth weight babies is maternal stress—either directly or through legal and illegal drugs, tobacco or alcohol—and it is working on a curriculum for babies in the womb. Bangor University is looking at a mindfulness curriculum for three to seven-year-olds; it already has one for seven to 11-year-olds. The .b course has been devised for 11 to 18-year-olds by top mindfulness experts who actually teach in the Palace of Westminster. There is another £7 million study into the effects of mindfulness on 11 to 18-year-olds at Oxford University called the MYRIAD project. Hopefully, the interim report will be published around 2020. If that scientific evidence is proven, as decision makers and policy makers we should look carefully at it. If we can get on top and provide that resilience to children and young people from the age of three, we should be implementing that.

I want to draw hon. Members’ attention to what we are doing in mindfulness to help us in our initiative to ensure that the proven science of mindfulness is taken up in the national health service, the education service and the criminal justice service. Some 85% of prisoners have one or more mental health issues, and some people are incarcerated from a very young age. Again, we owe it to them to look after them and to give them the best provision available.

I mentioned this in an earlier intervention, but the bell curve of wellbeing includes people who are well below that curve, the majority who are somewhere above that position of mental ill health, and a few who are flourishing. If we can shift the whole of that wellbeing curve along, the biggest beneficiaries will be those with the poorest mental health, but it will also help everybody on the curve. Mindfulness can be used not just to give people back their equanimity, but for human flourishing. This question has been posed for thousands of years, but something seems to have gone wrong in society over the past 30 years. We have had a tsunami of mental ill health washing over the whole of the world, and especially the western world. We give more credence to the pursuit of money and wealth than to individual, family, societal and community wellbeing. It is time that we took stock and asked ourselves what is important in life. The most important thing for me is to think from a position of balance. There are curricula and courses that can be taught to young people, and we are failing if we do not put those provisions in place.

Again, as I said in an earlier intervention, there is a way that we can help those students who go to university at 18 to become teachers in three or four years’ time, or who go at 18 to be medics or doctors and come out at 25 to be GPs. Many of those young people are in stress themselves—“Physician, heal thyself”. If those young students can be given the skills to get their own personal balance, when they go through their career as a GP, nurse, midwife, teacher or lecturer, they will remember the benefits that they have had—the equanimity and the ability to concentrate, to focus, to improve their grades and to improve their way of living—and they will be able to touch thousands of minds over the course of their medical or educational career. It is a huge problem that is out there, and some of the answers could be quite simple.