What will your legacy be? 2016 was a tumultuous year for politics. It was a year of desperate campaigns by opposing sides that’s shaken our nation to the core. 2016 was a year that thrust us, somewhat unwilling into the unknown. It was a year of confusion, of questions unanswered, of fear at what lies ahead. Ultimately, it was a year of change. Here in Scotland, you are fighting for our voices to be heard both in the U.K. and in Europe. You are fighting to protect our rights internationally. You are fighting to give us the opportunity to not only survive the changes we face but to thrive. You are fighting to keep our nation’s voice heard amongst the rabble of noise that is international politics.
Today, I ask you to press pause on all of that; I am asking you to let my voice drown out all the others for a moment and hear the plea I must make. I am writing this letter alone but I write on the behalf of many whom I know will have an innate understanding of my experiences, and I write on behalf of those you have a duty to protect but who’s voices are going unheard.
My name is Ashleigh Gorman and I am a young woman struggling to survive in Scotland today. I write to you from a bed in St John’s Hospital where I’ve spent the past three weeks as a patient on one of the psychiatric wards. I’m 21 years old, with the potential to choose any life I please, I should be a shining example of our health and education systems raising strong independent individuals but I’m not. Instead, since leaving school I have been on a crash course of self-destruction that’s led me to this moment. I cannot hold back on an issue of such paramount importance so I beg of you to hear these harsh words and truly consider whether you could be doing more, right now, to save people.
I can without any doubt say that I was failed by Scotland’s education system. I would go as far as to say my stay in hospital has been inevitable because I have suffered from a mental illness for years without treatment. I attended an amazing high school, one which prides itself on celebrating student success and helping each pupil attain their potential but I left that school woefully unprepared for life. I left school having desperately reached out for help because I didn’t know what to do. I didn’t understand what mental illness is and that I could get better. I was just a young, lost girl and I was scared. The help I needed wasn’t there and I learned to hide it away instead of facing it. Only life doesn’t work like that. Our schools are not teaching young people how to survive past those colourful classroom walls and rows of desks. I have used barely any of the academic knowledge I gained whilst at school the past three years because my mental health has continued to plummet to a place I almost would never have come back from. I along with so many others have been too busy trying not to live, only to survive.
Mental health. I didn’t put it in the first paragraph because I question whether this would then have been read. People are starting to talk about it more now but the truth is that most still want to ignore the elephant in the room. It astounds me that we live in a time where we know that prevention is always better than cure; where we know the impact our mental health has on our development; where we know that 75% of mental health problems start in the teenage years and yet we are still responsible for people dying from these problems because we are not teaching them how to combat these particular challenges. How many children would still be alive today if they had known to look after their mental health? How many children would be saved from crying, broken and alone had they known what to do when they felt like they wanted to die? How many more would never have to experience the devastating pain of watching their world crumble because of mental health problems? How many people is it going to take before you start to tackle this head on?
We teach lessons in schools in physical education, we serve healthy meals to meet nutritional standards, we teach children about drug and alcohol abuse and have zero tolerance policies to bullying. When are we going to teach them what it means to be mentally healthy? When are we going to teach them that sometimes the pain we can cause to our own minds can be more vastly more devastating than pain inflicted by others if our thoughts go unchallenged? When are we going to realise that we are raising a generation of children who have learnt that whilst it’s okay to talk about these things no one seems to know what to do about them if they do occur? Mental health is a priority, without it life is meaningless but we are still failing to dedicate time solely on the subject at the times when it is needed most. We are failing to prepare these children and instead of changing the approach we continue to put a sticking plaster over it. Only by tackling the root of the problem will we truly make steps forward in reducing it and thereby reducing the strain on our health services- which currently face the terrible burden of being unable to support everyone who needs it at referral.
I have spoken with people in the education system who know that they desperately need help preventing mental health problems developing and worsening. You only need look at the statistics to see how prevalent these problems are. It seems that, as with most things in life, lack of funding makes the decision for them. When I recover I will fight with all I have to change the way we approach mental health in Scotland. I will campaign tirelessly and work with every school I have to if it means that I can make a difference to our young people. They are Scotland’s future and we are condemning so many of them to unnecessary suffering that will live with them forever. It breaks my heart to know there is so much that could be done to help them. The frustrating part is that no one should have to fight so hard for something so essential.
What makes me reach out to you is the fact that you can change this. This is bigger than party politics. This is bigger than working out how to gain the best advantage or the most votes. It’s an intrinsic part of the country you want to create. Every leader leaves behind a legacy and I’m sure you’ve considered what yours will be. Every decision you make contributes to it. You want to make Scotland great and to achieve that you need a country of strong resilient individuals able to weather challenges that undoubtedly will crash over them in life. I am challenging you to make the changes needed to teach our young ones how to ride out the waves because right now too many are having to fight against the current to survive.
There are endless possibilities when it comes to the teaching of this subject. From integrating into the classroom on a subject by subject basis to allocating dedicated time each week for it. Interactive workshops or talks from those who have experienced problems. This challenge is only as big as you make it and by tackling it lives will be saved. Illnesses will be prevented and where they can’t be prevented they will be managed. Knowledge gives us the power and freedom to achieve anything. We owe it to everyone to pass on the knowledge that will allow them to
thrive. By holding back and accepting slow progress as enough we are committing a great injustice.
This year, 2017, is a year where I continue my fight for life. Every day I choose to be here and face my troubles I will grow stronger and come closer to achieving my dreams. My question to you is, what will 2017 be your year of? Will you allow this to stay on the back burner, concealed under a layer of dust? Will you sit back and continue watching young adults entering the world knowing you could have done more to prepare them? Or, will you step up to the gauntlet and make changes for the better? I know what I could do to make a difference but I must first find reason to try. My battle is hard and I have found that my attempts to help face opposition,
I do not have the influence you have. So now I am looking to you as my leader for help and I am desperately wondering if you are just another politician willing to let this slide away under the carpet…out of sight, out of mind.