Thursday 29th June 2017

What's New

NEWS: Farnborough gets AcSEED Award

24th July 2016

Congratulations to The Sixth Form College Farnborough in Hampshire ...

NEWS: The AcSEED Newsletter

12th June 2016

Read The AcSEED Newsletter for June 2016.

NEWS: Beacon PRU gets AcSEED Award

25th March 2016

Congratulations to The Beacon PRU in Redditch, Worcestershire ...

NEWS: Lordswood get AcSEED Award

25th March 2016

Congratulations to Lordswood Girls' School in Harborne, Birmingham ...

NEWS: Cedars Upper get AcSEED Award

25th March 2016

Congratulations to Cedars Upper School in Leighton Buzzard, Bedfordshire ...

Amy-Louise's Story

Can you tell us about your experience of mental illness whilst at school?

My mental health problems actually began extremely early. I began self-injuring at the age of 12, in combination with not eating and developing anorexia, triggered by severe bullying which had been the case throughout primary school and had continued throughout secondary school. I found that throughout my younger years at school, from the ages of 12-16, my support was good, but could have been much better. There were school counsellors to talk to and I was lucky to have supportive teachers, but I could have done with more understanding and perseverance with my fluctuating moods and behaviour as I worsened. However, I stayed on in the same school for Sixth Form, when both my illnesses got much worse, and found my situation regarding support to be pretty poor. The teachers were fantastic with me, and some ended up saving my life, but the Sixth Form staff themselves only noticed me and recognised that I really had a problem after I overdosed and ended up in hospital. There were no considerate pastoral staff to help, and no female staff which was a problem for female students needing help and assistance. The school counsellor seemed to be unable to deal with issues on a larger scale at this point, having really only dealt with the younger years (and we had changed school counsellors a few times after that). A member of staff whom I was extremely close to stopped speaking to me after my overdose as she deemed it too painful for her, and that also destroyed me to a huge degree and is something that two years on I still haven't managed to get over as I was told that I put her into Psychotherapy. So overall, my experience with mental health at school was extremely varied. I did however have some phenomenal teachers, especially within the field of English Literature, who were incredibly supportive and my rocks throughout everything I went through, especially during my time in the Sixth Form.

Speaking to other people about their experiences however, some have actually been shockingly worse than mine. Examples include refusing to sit in an examination hall with a student who had a feeding tube, teachers telling students to 'get over it' and 'get a grip' (which I've had before), sending students home if they had a panic attack or noticed a cut on their arm instead of trying to help them. These are just some of the responses I have had from others about their experiences, and quite frankly, it's disgusting.

What could the school have done to support you?

In my school I feel there needed to have been more school counsellors available, trained on a wide variety of mental health problems, not just the classic ones. I feel also that a Sixth Form pastoral member of staff was vital to aid students with mental health problems. My Sixth Form seemed to have the impression that everyone went through life happy and with no issues, and didn't seem prepared for anything in a student's life that could go wrong. We need more consideration for mental health issues from all members of staff rather than a judgmental outlook on any student who appears to be 'struggling' or not living up to their high expectations due to a mental health issue, which I feel would be especially the case at high achieving Sixth Forms and schools.

How did you want staff and teachers to treat and support you?

Sometimes, just asking how I was doing would be a massive help. I didn't expect every teacher to be my counsellor or anything, but just to care. And sometimes, that's the most important thing. I needed the staff to have consideration that maybe I couldn't always hand my essays in on time, and that I couldn't always be perfect, I wouldn't always want to read out in class and I would have panic attacks during tests, etc. Luckily for my favourite subject, English Literature, I had teachers who were excellent in that field. But other subjects seemed not to be as understanding, even knowing full well how much I struggled. At the same time however, I wanted them to treat me like a human being and not an animal or someone who was different than other students. It seems to be that a lot of teachers (not all, but some) have been taught to only ever recognise students on an academic level, as objects who perform for their league tables as opposed to considering their feelings and how this academic pressure, as well as other pressures, could affect them.

How important is it for schools to raise awareness of mental illness and how can this be done?

In this modern age, raising awareness of mental health in schools is vital. One in four people struggle with a mental illness. Education is such a precious and valuable thing and every child should feel that they are entitled to it, no matter whether they have a mental health issue or not. I think assemblies and talks from charities are always a good idea. Schools get ambassadors coming in from drugs and police charities all the time, so why not mental health? But also encourage children to talk about mental health in PSE lessons, as it seems to be a taboo topic. Encouragement of discussion around mental health will hopefully help to ease the panic that people seem to have regarding speaking out, and the ignorance that other students may show towards mental health as a whole. Perhaps there could also be fundraising days for mental health charities. More often than not charities are used by pupils, so raising money for them in schools should help other students and staff realise how common the problem is and may allow the current stigma to reduce.

What do you think a lesson on mental health should cover?

I've been asking some good friends about this who also struggle with mental health issues and using those and my own ideas we have come up with these suggestions:

  • Information on different types of mental illnesses (depression, eating disorders and self-injury) but not just the common ones. Most students hear 'mental illness' and picture a violent individual locked up in a barred psychiatric ward, so it would be nice to display students and teachers with information on the variety of mental health issues out there to ease that stereotype.
  • Information on how to recognise a person who may be struggling. Obviously this varies by illness and so would require more than one lesson (not a problem with that!) but if students and staff learn how to recognise when a student is struggling then they are able to access the help they need more promptly.
  • What to say to students who are struggling with mental health problems.
  • Emphasis on how people with mental health problems are normal, everyday people just like you and I, and deserve to be treated like them too, rather than someone 'different'. Also how people with mental health problems have NOTHING to be ashamed of because of this reason. We are able to do everything that average humans can do, and should not be feared.
  • Important helplines and ports of call for students who are struggling, and where they should turn to if they need help.
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