Are you an ostrich?

Posted on: 10 Dec 2013

By Dick Moore, Charlie Waller Memorial Trust

Dick Moore touched a nerve with the audience at the recent ISC SEN conference when he talked about the suicide of his own son. Now he works with the Charlie Waller Memorial Trust to help schools identify and work with mental health in adolescents…

As a technological cretin, I didn’t really know what to say when I was asked to write a blog. I’ve never written a blog. I don’t know what a blog is. Someone has told me that it is a personal reflection designed to elicit a response and provoke dialogue. Someone else said that it is an excuse to be patronising and pompous. Here goes…

I was honoured to be invited to address the ISC SEN Conference in London in November. I imagine that the invitation stemmed from the work I have been doing in schools and universities regarding adolescent mental health, but it may have been in spite of that work rather than because of it!

I was triggered into exploring adolescent mental health by the suicide of my third son in 2011. Some of the things I have found out have been horrifying. For example…

  • 25% of eighteen year olds have experienced depression
  • 13% of 16 year olds have self-harmed
  • 75% of mental health problems originate during adolescence There are countless other statistics to support the view that young people today feel under more pressure than ever before. I would go further….those who attend selective schools are especially vulnerable, given the pressure many will feel from parents, teachers, peers and self. Many of those present at the SEN conference seemed to agree…

I wonder if any ISC headteacher would not publically place the welfare of their pupils at the top of their list of priorities? I doubt it. A number have appreciated the enormous and growing threat to their pupils’ happiness and productivity presented by increasingly fragile adolescent mental health. Many are trying to develop a culture amongst pupils, staff, and parents which increases understanding of the need to take specific steps to develop pupils’ emotional resilience. But others – a frightening number of others – are either content to tick boxes or, worse, to keep the can of worms tightly sealed, leaving the contents to fester and ferment.

It is not just the responsibility of schools to take action. University leaders, employers, politicians and parents can all make a difference. If they deem it worth the trouble to do so.

We don’t tend to hear about those young people whose attempts to escape from a world in which they can find no hope ends in failure…or survival. Many schools do what they can to keep such events under wraps, one hopes for the sake of the young person rather than the reputation of the school. But every school has a frightening number of pupils who are unhappy. 32% of young people have attempted or contemplated suicide. Schools which keep their heads in the sand – and I fear that ostriches are notorious for lacking self-awareness - are neglecting their responsibilities. It is these schools which will shoulder a degree of culpability should they be the next to suffer the fallout from a suicide.

May I ask readers of this blog to ask themselves two questions?

  • Does my school have a Mental Health/Emotional Wellbeing Policy and is it directly linked to the school’s Child Protection Policy?
  • Is my school more concerned with engaging with, and listening to, young people than with systematic box ticking?

If the answer to either question is ‘no’, please do something about it.

About ISC Press Office

The ISC Press Office posts blogs on behalf of ISC schools and Associations.