Interview with the Author of: Secondary schools must provide a mental health studies class

Buddy Bench Ireland

Like many of you we were extremely moved by the article below, we asked the author to contact us for a few reasons. We needed to know if he/she was getting the right support and guidance they needed and we had a few questions. Whilst visiting schools almost daily we know the educational system may be letting our children and young people down. Teachers have their hands tied as too over work load, restrictions and lack of budget, change is needed at via the Departments of Health and the Department of Education both. Until then schools, teachers and students will make do, but we believe this is not good enough.

The author is an extremely intelligent young lady from Cork. She is receiving the support she needs from her family and her school and as you will read she is doing just fine. We applaud her bravery, honesty and her objectives for writing the article.

1) What compelled you to write this article was there anything that sparked you expressing your feelings and experience?

To be honest, the article wasn't planned at all , the one you read was the first draft. I was sitting at home last Sunday night and was just so fed up of feeling the way I did. I began thinking of the things I have missed out on and people who I've lost because of my mental health. I was also caught in a trail of thoughts about so many other people who are struggling so much at the moment , balancing school and their own share of problems. I cannot say for certain any particular event inspired me to write the article, it was really just a mixture of things piled up over time and I couldn't just sit back and let it affect me anymore.

2).In the article you say, “My school, and teachers are excellent, they do what they can but they cannot change the way a student thinks and feels”. It sounds like your teachers try to understand, however is there something that, in your experience, the teachers, PTA, student body, could have helped with?

 My teachers are outstanding. I could not fault them at all. Of course I always believe student body could try and be kinder to one another, stop judging people so much over the most irrelevant little details! But we are young, and that is what we do. I do believe PTA's should be aware of the depth of mental health issues in schools because of course , it could be affecting their children one way or another. For that I suggest an anonymous survey be issued by PTA groups and handed out to the students of their schools, containing questions such as "have you ever suffered from a mental health disorder " or " Do you know somebody affected by one?" And students can simply tick yes or no. I know from experience young people are very put off opening up about these sort of things in case they are scrutinised, but by leaving it anonymous ,PTA groups can get a clear and accurate representation of the mental health state in their schools and thus can take charge to making changes. Regards to teachers, I seriously can only speak from experience and the teachers at my school cannot be faulted. They notice the slightest things and are open and welcoming. They make time for their students and they genuinely care.

3)Was there anything or anyone in your primary or secondary schooling that opened up a discussion on metal health/well-being?

 In my primary school no, there was not anything held that discussed mental health etc. But this year in sixth year, we had a talk once a week for 8 weeks about well being , mindfulness and it being "okay to be you". This was not compulsory and you could sign up to do it if you wish. I found this very effective and gave me a chance to talk to my peers about topics I would usually find awkward to discuss.

4)You said in your article I spent so long in my teenage years thinking I was "dramatic "and "hormonal". Was there anyone you talked to about this when you started feeling this way?

I talked to my friends normally when I felt angry , emotional and upset. But I stopped opening up because everyone would have the same misogynistic response ; "It's probably your period" or my personal favourite ; " Teenage hormones". Our society is built in a way we brush serious issues under the carpet because it would cause people to feel too much if they were to be discussed.

5)  You said in your article “What angers me the most, is I completely believe, my state of mental health would never have reached the level it is at, if there was a class offered from 1st year up, to students that discussed every part of any mental health disorder"
Were there any support mechanisms in place in your secondary school with regards to mental health?

There were always posters around school about mental health and the staff were always open if a student chose to talk about it. But I don't think that it the issue. I believe that students can be too embarrassed , scared or sometimes do not even think they have a problem to discuss! This is why I want more than anything a mental health studies class to be put in place to , in a way ,to normalise discussions about things such as anxiety, depression etc because so many people suffer from them! Look at it this way, say in some alternate universe if 6 out of 10 children got cancer, would you deny children a right to be aware of the symptoms and access to treatment to help them with their disease?

6)How much of a difference would it have made to how you felt and your school years had there been supports in place?

 I definitely believe  that it would not have taken me 5 years to finally open up about my struggles had there been supports in place and as I said , no way would have I reached the lows I have. I would have known how to deal with certain situations and would not have to miss school because of low moods and anxiety. Ironically I miss school also because I attend counselling outside of school! I do also meetup with a counsellor in school who is amazing! But she is just one person and my worry is only for the people who cannot and will not ever speak out about their struggles because they are afraid of the reaction.

7)Did you feel free to speak to your friends or teachers about how you were feeling?

 I did feel 100 %t free to talk to my teachers because I already had a good relationship with them and felt they really did care. With friends it is more difficult, you are always going to be afraid of what they'll think about you afterwards but what they won't say.It is also worrying in case they begin to treat you differently , and for a person with anxiety that would cause the over thinking to go into overload ! But since my article was released my friends treat me no different and are so proud and supportive of me which does support the saying that it really is all in our head.

8) Where you frightened of speaking to your peers about what you were experiencing?

 Yes I was frightened ! Not because my peers were judgemental but anxiety causes you to be extremely paranoid which on a normal day is bad enough! I was worried maybe a few would think it was for attention and if i was confronted with that idea , I honestly do not know how I would deal with it! I also never would want to make it all about myself? Everyone has their own struggles and thought maybe my friends would have problems monumental comparing to mine and I would just look self-obsessed.

9)How did you learn about how your friends and peers were also experiencing issues around mental health?

 When you yourself go through mental health issues you pick up little ways of dealing with it , or avoiding difficult situations, you're also constantly on high alert in case somebody notices you doing these things that I actually began to notice my friends and peers in similar situations and doing similar things to me. Also quite a few friends have opened up to me about their own issues , I will always have time for people who goes through difficult times because everybody needs somebody.

10) How much of a stigma around mental health issues did you experience?

Since it is early days I haven't received stigma for my article yet. Now I have no doubt some people have their own opinions on what it is I am going through and I respect that , as long as they do not confront me in a rude or nasty way. Being aware of a certain stigma around mental health issues has made me reluctant to open up in the past though. I am sick of honest , hurting people who open up about their problems and are branded attention seeking and over dramatic.

11) Do you feel your voice is being heard since this article? Has this made a difference to how you are feeling?

 You honestly have no idea how amazing I feel since the publication of my article online. I finally feel like people want to hear what I have to say and the fact people agree and relate with me is even more amazing. This has inspired me to keep writing and to keep being passionate about this.

I am willing to talk to anybody that will listen! Myself and my mom were planning a book tour , a radio show and a slot on daytime tv for myself this morning haha! All jokes aside, it has increased my confidence by a million, and increased my mood more than I ever would have anticipated. I did not have that knot in my stomach waking up because the texts and comments I have received from people relating with me and my article made me realise I am not alone. People are going through this and have gone through this and people will go through this again but I am determined to come out stronger and prouder.

Isn't she just amazing, inspiring and what a bright future she has ahead of her.....Thank You for sharing XXX

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