Every 40 seconds someone takes their own life. That is the shocking statistic that the World Health Organisation wants to focus on this October 10, World Mental Health Day, 2019. With poor mental health particularly prevalent among teenagers and suicide the second leading cause of death among 15 to 29 year olds around the world, the participation of students in the #HelloYellow campaign to support children and young people’s mental health is crucial to normalising the conversation. Every year this campaign is run by Young Minds in the UK.
Technology and the increasingly competitive pressures of modern living have meant that mental health issues can no longer be ignored and governments are introducing long overdue programs in a concerted effort to sweep aside the stigma attached to this aspect of our general wellbeing. As Megan Markle, the Duchess of Sussex and the wife of Prince Harry, said in a rare interview in Cape Town last month, the important thing is “Getting people to talk about it and talk to each other. No matter where you are in the world, whether a small community or a town ship or if you are in a big city, everyone is dealing with a version of the same thing. Globally there’s a bit of a consciousness crisis.”
Joining her at the Waves for Change NGO, Prince Harry, who wrestled himself with mental health issues for some years after the death of his mother, Princess Diana, added, “Everyone has experienced trauma or is likely to experience trauma at some time in their lives. We need to – not eradicate it, but just learn from previous generations so that it’s not a perpetual cycle.” A pioneer in opening up the conversation, Prince Harry has taken his involvement one step further; together he, Megan, his brother William, the Duke of Cambridge and his wife Kate, the Duchess of Cambridge, will urge people to look after their mental health as they launch the Every Mind Matters campaign for the UK National Health Service (NHS).
Basically, the aim of the initiative is to tackle mental health in much the same way as we do our physical wellbeing. This means that even people who have no mental health issues or the usual mild ones, can benefit from mentally working out, using specific exercises that need consistent practice and application. Meanwhile, the UK government is to make mental health education a compulsory part of the national curriculum from 2020, meaning that children will be given the tools to help them take care of their minds and emotions while learning how to recognise when a classmate is struggling to do the same.
As former Education Secretary, Damian Hinds points out, “Growing up and adolescence is hard enough, but the Internet and social media add new pressures that just weren’t there even one generation ago. So many things about the way people interact have changed, and this new world, seamless between online and offline, can be difficult to navigate.” Just recently, a report by Digital Awareness UK commissioned by head teachers in the UK flagged up a new trend sparked by ‘sadfishing’ – the act of sharing distress online. According to the report, reaching out online can often backfire as, according to the 50,000 11 to 16 years olds interviewed by the researchers, support fails to materialise or those seeking it are teased and bullied. In Cape Town, Megan Markle pointed out that mental health issues are not confined to any specific demographic. Aware of its importance, King’s is marking World Mental Health Day with a yellow wardrobe and donations to selected mental health charities as well as assorted activities and talks to bring the issue to the fore.
In King’s College, Frankfurt, for example, the children will have a mindfulness session everyday of Mental Health Awareness Week to practice focusing on the present and not let their thoughts – and worries – run away with them. Similarly in King’s College Latvia, the children have been participating in a number of Wellbeing workshops in the last week including special outdoor activities to explore creativity as well as having the chance to go to a special gym and learn about their physical health.
In King’s College Madrid, yellow pins are on sale to students to encourage awareness and all proceeds will go to ANAR which aims to support children in need. SINEWS will be delivering a talk to all parents in the school and during PSHE and the vertical tutor group sessions, there will be adult and pupil led sessions on mental health; and in King’s College, the British School of Alicante, assemblies will focus on mental health while teachers will highlight the importance of mental health care in class with activities such as inventing a mental health superhero, making up positive mental health messages to give and receive and a secret acts of kindness challenge along the lines of ‘secret Santa but with an act of kindness instead of a gift.
Year round, King’s College runs mental health initiatives such as the Pupil Voice wellbeing program (link to blog 10) while King’s College Chamartín infant teacher Anne Louise Jordan is employing a strategy she calls ‘a mental health check in’ that is currently surfacing in the UK to ascertain at the start of the day how each of the pupils is feeling and what kind of help and attention they require.
As Anne Louise explains, there are a number of phrases on the door from I’m feeling happy today, to I’m struggling to I’m in a dark place. The children have their own pegs and place it according to how they feel – which they can change throughout the day.
“After they have come in, I take a look and I focus specifically on the children who have put their names on the bottom part since they are letting me know something isn’t quite right” says Anne Louise. “Depending on the child, I have a class discussion or I take the child to the side and let them know they can talk to me at any time.”
Anne Louise says that this is usually enough to improve the child’s wellbeing and they move the peg up within a few hours. The children have also become good at telling her if one of their classmates has moved their peg down and she often hears them going to that child and asking if they are okay.
“They learn through regular sessions that their emotions are just as important as maths and English and talking about how they feel helps them to learn better,” she says. “We focus on mental health in our weekly sessions and develop ways to show how we feel even if we don’t always have the words for it.”
By Heather Galloway
Tips to control anxiety
- Keep a diary to help identify the source of your anxiety so you know what to tackle.
- Challenge anxious thoughts: seek solid evidence for your worries and check for evidence to the contrary. Practice replacing the negative thought with something more positive to break the vicious thought-feeling-action circle.
- Set aside a specific worry time – say 10 minutes in the early evening – and tell yourself: I’ll worry about that later.
- Face issues you want to avoid instead of letting them build up.
- Think of the advice you might give to a friend in your situation and take it yourself.
- Accept that a certain amount of anxiety is natural and don’t worry about worrying!