Teaching children about wellbeing is as important as road safety, best-selling author Matt Haig has said as he calls for mental health to be added to the school curriculum.
However, Haig, who is known for his children’s books which unpick mental health issues for young readers, warned against so-called ‘helicopter parents’ “editing” their sons and daughters’ lives.
Speaking to The Sunday Telegraph, the 43-year-old who has written about his own severe depression, warned parents and schools they must “get ahead of the game”.
“It’s just as important as road safety,” he told The Telegraph, “I think we need to get ahead of the game on this, it’s evolving so fast and it feels like everyone’s so behind in terms of technology and health.
“It should be ingrained at some point in the curriculum.”
His call comes after this newspaper revealed a potential shake up of Ofsted’s school inspections to include an assessment on mental health and wellbeing.
An NHS report last week found that more than one in ten boys at primary school are being labelled as suffering from a mental disorder.
Researchers found that boys aged between five and ten were twice as likely as girls the same age to suffer such problems.
The study also suggested that children from middle income families have twice as many mental disorders as those from poorer backgrounds, something that Haig links to an overload of technology devices, parental pressure and increased emotional awareness.
In his book, Notes of a Nervous Planet, Haig gives tips on coping with the “switched on” aspect of the modern world.
He said: “Kids now have got more in their lives, they never have to be bored in this world of constant distraction. No adult would let their kids smoke 60 cigarettes on an evening but because that’s physical health it’s so clear cut, with mental health it’s still a bit abstract for some people.
“Boys are also dealing with the pressures that were traditionally the girls’ pressures. They’ve got the looks pressure, there’s apps out there now aimed at men and boys aimed at giving your photos a six pack.
“We’re at a stage where we communicate more and more by our looks, especially young people on Instagram and Snapchat.”
Haig, who lives in Brighton, started writing children’s books aimed at unpicking mental health following the success of his memoir, Reasons to Stay Alive which reflects on his severe depression between the ages of 24 and 32.
In it, he links the malaise of modern society to the prevalence of mental illness, something he explored more deeply in Notes on a Nervous Planet, which gives tips on coping with the “switched on” aspect of the modern world, and has recently come out in paperback.
Haig decided to home-school his children, Lucas, 11 and Pearl, nine, when they didn’t seem happy going into class everyday.
But his latest children’s book, out in August, follows the adventures of his well-known character, the Truth Pixie, as she embarks on the opposite – her life at school, where it is “hard to be true”.
It follows the success of The Truth Pixie, a bestseller that has sold 65,000 copies since its 2017 release. Haig has been nominated three times for the Carnegie Medal.
“We’re in this age now where we are expected to be these magazine versions of ourselves and present an image to the world, and kids feel that even more than we do.
“The immediate appeal of the Truth Pixie is that she literally can’t lie and she tells the truth about everything. It’s about the pressure to fit in and be popular, it’s not just about school.”
Haig, who has always been open about his mental illness with his two children and regularly brings them to his talks, still worries about getting their education right.
“They’ve seen all kinds of stuff, and often young people will be drawn to the more sensationalist stuff as well – there’s an infinite amount of anything out there,” he added.
“I worry about my children as they get older, I worry about access in terms of porn, all kinds of things that are out there.”
But he does not think parents should monitor everything their children do.
Haig said he believes children need to learn to ‘“clear up” their own messes.
When you’re with your kids all the time and editing everything they do and making decisions for them all the time, that’s not healthy either,” he added.
“That’s my beef with other parents sometimes, when the whole world just becomes about that one child and it’s not about other children generally, it’s just about them.”
Matt Haig’s ‘Notes on a Nervous Planet’ is out now in paperback.