The importance of coming together for mental health awareness
Eli Thomas, a pupil at Christ's Hospital School and organiser of a new pupil-led mental health conference, discusses how schools can do more to promote mental health and wellbeing.
‘Mental health’ is a buzz-word topic at the moment. It is in the unique position of being both taboo and tired. We have so many surface level conversations about mental health but it’s still too taboo to talk about in any real sense. Depression and anxiety have become trendy, glamorised and synonymous with feeling down and worried. Teenagers joke about these conditions to the point where those genuinely questioning if they have depression are met with a flurry of ‘same’.
Diagnosable mental health conditions are on the rise in every group of people, from teenagers to new mothers to the elderly. One in every four of us will experience difficulties with our mental health in our lifetime, a statistic that is thrown around liberally these days. However, what we don’t talk about is the fact that half of these cases become prevalent before 14 years old, and that the proportion rises to three quarters by the time we reach our early twenties.
We know that early implementation of focused support and good wellbeing practices can help minimise the impact of mental health disorders on young people. We know that employing these at an early age can reduce the chances of young people developing mental health problems. But unfortunately, fewer than one in five children and teenagers with diagnosable mental health conditions receive the treatment they need.
The problem we have is not knowing who needs help and if we have the resources required. The only way we can find out who needs support is by creating environments in which people are able to comfortably admit they are struggling early on. It is becoming harder and harder for a person struggling with their mental health to realise that they need help, and what they are experiencing is worrying. We live in a culture that normalises warning signs and risk-factors, and that is what we need to stop. We need to have real, honest conversations; we need to break down the taboo by talking.
Though we didn’t know the facts and figures, this problem was clear to us, and over conversation we decided to raise awareness and improve education on this topic for our local community. For us, it was key to get both state and other independent schools in on this. We have the ability and resources to run an event of this calibre, and so do other independent schools, but we wanted to be clear that good mental health is not a private school exclusive. By inviting schools from the local area, we improve both our environments and by widening the conversation to include more perspectives, we all end up taking more away from the day.
We have been lucky enough to have some good connections and book some incredible speakers to run workshops and take part in an open panel. However, these events don’t necessarily need big names, fancy programmes or months of planning. The most important part is the message. We are telling people that we want to create a safe, open environment, and that we are trying our best to get there. We will run events to increase conversation, and we will go to events that increase conversation. Bit by bit we are working to dismantle the stigma of asking for support, and so is every other school attending.
If a conference is not feasible, there are other ways to raise awareness, start a conversation and send a message to your pupils. The first one is simple – talk about it; to pupils joining, within your PSHE curriculum, in one-on-one conversations. Hold a fundraising event for a mental health charity, get your pupils involved and while you’re at it – talk about mental health. Hold assemblies, with school staff or an external speaker to educate or share their story. The most important aspect to this is sincerity; it is key to want to improve the culture surrounding mental health in your organisation.
Our event will be something I am very proud of, mostly for playing a part in making my, and others’, environment more educated and open about mental health. However this is achieved, we, as teenagers, need to speak up and get involved in how we want our mental health education to look. We must find the areas we feel are lacking and strive to make them better for future pupils.
Thank you for taking the time to read this - together, through conversation, we can work to dismantle the stigma surrounding mental health.
Read more about Christ's Hospital School's pupil-led mental health conference here.