This week, Britain, supposedly a land of opportunities, got a kick in the teeth. Our nation, which prides itself on its positive discrimination, finds itself as the worst country in the Western world for social mobility.
Though anyone with any disabilities probably won’t be so surprised that they are stuck in a rut.
It is as if mental health is a taboo. To admit you have depression or learning problems is seen as an apparent weakness… and not in line with our stiff upper lip, brush it under the carpet, keep calm and carry on philosophy.
In the same vein employers, teachers and even some sufferers pretend these problems do not exist, keeping them locked away from public scrutiny.
It is time that people stood up unashamedly, like the Daily Express in their Crusade For Better Mental Health, and focus on the serious mental illnesses millions face every day.
We hear so much advice from the government about not smoking, drinking less, eating five-a-day and exercising – but what about stress or depression, dyslexia or self-harming? Where is the fanfare of guidance for these common yet ignored conditions?
Such attitudes left my brother completely let down by the state education system.
After being diagnosed with ADHD, dyspraxia and dyslexia as a child he was dismissed as merely a naughty boy and considered to be with no aspirations, focus or interest. In fact, he is bright, hardworking and has an enduring love of history.
He was written off from a young age and told bluntly by his teachers, before he eventually left school at 15, that he ‘wasn’t worth the money’ for a college education and would not amount to anything. His only fault was to be born with mental conditions he had no control of.
The school refused to acknowledge or comprehend the problems he faced and left him to rot while they waited for him to leave, as he finally did without a qualification to his name. No child should have to go through this.
When mental problems are discussed, they are often derided or used as a tag to mask inexcusable, neglectful behaviour that can be prevented. In recent months we have seen public figures like Ricky Gervais think that it is acceptable to use derogatory labels for Down’s sufferers, as if it is the height of wit.
For anyone who has lived with a family member with ADHD, it is not a matter of ‘misbehaving’ or wanting attention. It can be devastating and very difficult to cope with.
But it is not just behavioural problems being ignored in the education system. So are low self-esteem, depression and learning difficulties. It is so easy for teachers to focus on fast-track and self-starter students who already possess the ability to achieve results.
Those with mental health difficulties can be thrown on to the scrapheap at an early age because they take more time to deal with, even though they can possess as much intelligence as the brightest pupil in the school.
Why would a teacher, who can often have 30-40 pupils in each class, take time out of their schedule to ensure that every child is doing the best to the ability? What teacher really has the time for that?
Schools need to broaden their focus so that it is not just the teachers’ pets who receive all the attention. They have a duty to develop all children, not just those who can help the school climb the league table. Children with mental health problems are having the pattern of their lives set by education professionals who do not have time for them, and who are satisfied to keep them out of sight, out of mind.
Read more contributions to TP's mental health week here