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Thursday 29th June 2017
24th July 2016
Congratulations to The Sixth Form College Farnborough in Hampshire ...
12th June 2016
Read The AcSEED Newsletter for June 2016.
25th March 2016
Congratulations to The Beacon PRU in Redditch, Worcestershire ...
25th March 2016
Congratulations to Lordswood Girls' School in Harborne, Birmingham ...
25th March 2016
Congratulations to Cedars Upper School in Leighton Buzzard, Bedfordshire ...
I began suffering with mental illness when I was fourteen years old and in year 9 at secondary school. A number of things contributed to me feeling depressed ... I was being verbally bullied and had recently lost my grandmother who I was very close to. I began self-harming but hid this by always wearing a jumper. I also began restricting my food intake and fell into a pattern of binge eating, vomiting then starving myself. It was only in year 10 when I took my first overdose that my teachers became aware of my suffering. Things escalated quite quickly and within a few months of my cry for help I was admitted to an adolescent psychiatric ward in Bristol. I stayed there on and off for around four months, during which I attended school on the unit. It was at this point that my school began to provide help, however it was only really in an educational format rather than emotional support. One teacher did travel to Bristol to see me and to talk through some revision for my upcoming GCSE's. This did help me to feel supported as I knew that exam-wise things were going to be looked after, and I was told I could either take some exams on the unit or travel back to my school for them. Back at school however, the rumour mill had gone into overdrive due to my absence. Some pupils who knew half of the story started a rumour saying I had tried to kill myself because 'I had been dumped', others suggested I was pregnant and that was the real reason I was not at school! My friends stood up for me and in a rather backward attempt the teachers did try to, as I was told that once before I went back into a class, the teacher told the whole class to "be nice" to me.
I don't think that the teacher's lack of emotional response was due to not caring about me, I genuinely believe that they simply did not know what to do in order to help me. I don't expect that during their teacher training they were told how to deal with a depressed and potentially suicidal student. We had very little in the way of any emotional wellbeing classes; we simply had PSE in which we discussed sex education and drug and alcohol use. I do not remember any mention of mental illness, though we discussed the dangers of smoking at length!
It was as if they were completely unaware of how to respond. Teachers would occasionally see cuts on my arms but other than asking me if I was okay and if I needed any help with my coursework, there was little in the way of real support or counselling. I had teachers who I liked more than others, but with no prompting from them I felt unable to tell them of my problems. I would have liked to have been supported more ... a counsellor at the school would have been fantastic although I would have wanted it to have stayed private from other pupils that I was seeing one. This perhaps could have taken place in the format of an after school or lunchtime session. I think more understanding of mental illness in general would have really helped. I remember one occasion where I left a class upset, the teacher later pulled me to one side and said that I needed to work on my 'attitude problem'. This did not help at all; in fact it pushed me much further in the other direction. I did begin to act out and again the responses from teachers were just to tell me off. When I did eventually leave school to be admitted to hospital, I just felt a huge amount of relief. Looking back, I feel that I was failed slightly. At such a vulnerable and impressionable age I suffered with various issues, all of which the school were aware of due to numerous letters from my parents ... yet very little support was offered.
I am certainly not saying that I wanted special treatment - that would of course have made things worse particularly in concerns to the bullying. I don't think that treating a pupil with ill mental health any differently will really be beneficial, however it IS important that staff are aware of a pupil's vulnerability and what is happening at home that could affect them. This can help them to be a silent pillar of support and try to assess on a day to day basis how they are.
I believe it is now imperative that schools begin to teach pupils of emotional well-being to further equip them for the future, whether it is them or a friend/relative who develops ill mental health. Secondary school is when you are at a slightly difficult age, trying to find out who you are and fit in with other friends, and you begin to scrutinise yourself as a person. My eating disorder developed partly as a result of comparing myself to other pupils. Therefore, by teaching it at this age, if issues were to develop they will be caught and hopefully treatment could begin before they deteriorate. Talking about mental illness will also help us to override the stigma that can sometimes cling to illnesses of the mind. I have always found it helpful when struggling to remember that it is an illness, and although it may not be physical just because you cannot see it does not make it any less important or anything to be ashamed of.
A lesson on mental health should cover
- Statistics ... with one in four people suffering from a form of mental illness it's extremely important to let sufferers know that they are not alone.
- Types of mental illness, ranging from eating disorders to OCD to psychotic illnesses.
- Where to find support if suffering from a mental health disorder, phone numbers and support networks. These could also be sent out to parents, so they know who to contact if they are worried about their child.
- Scenarios of people who have suffered from a MH problem, what led up to the problem, what were the symptoms, how was it resolved or treated.