By Amy Westendarp
As outlined in the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC), every child has a right to enjoy the highest attainable standard of health (Article 24) and an education that supports their mental development (Article 29). In this blog, Enquire’s Information Officer for Children and Young People Amy Westendarp reflects on the fascinating views shared by young people at their recent mental health conference.
“The butterfly effect – the theory that a small change, can have large effects elsewhere, is symbolic of the effect bereavement can have”.
This was just one of the insightful comments made by young people at Enquire’s recent conference in Stirling about the factors that impact on pupils’ emotional wellbeing and what schools can do to support their mental health.
Gennifer, who lost her best friend Eilidh to cancer as a teenager, spoke of how she had struggled to stay engaged in school life. “Due to my personal experience of bereavement at an early age”, Gennifer said, ” I understand how much of an effect this can have on a young person’s life especially whilst trying to balance school and exams too….After Eilidh passed away, I lost interest in school and started skipping classes, I also stopped talking to my old friends and started smoking as a way to cope.”
Keen to use her experiences to help other pupils experiencing grief, Gennifer created the website SOAR. “It’s important to offer young people other forms of support and advice in this situation in order to help them come to terms with their loss… Having a website allows for people to access the information they want, when they want, and where they want, especially within the privacy of their own homes”, Gennifer explained to the conference delegates. Pointing out that whereas professionals usually get several weeks of bereavement leave when a loved one dies, by contrast pupils are often expected to attend school even the same day as the funeral, Gennifer had all sorts of good ideas for how schools could support young people facing loss. “No matter if the bereaved person says they want to be left alone…now, more than ever, your support is needed”.
Also speaking on the day were Zoe and Caitlin, who gave a thorough and thought-provoking analysis of the positive and negative impact that social media can have on young people’s mental health. Zoe and Caitlin, whose volunteering efforts for See Me and Aye Mind have even attracted the attention of the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge, pointed out that online trolls, cyber bullies and hurtful comments sticking around online forever could make life very difficult for pupils, who also had to take care to avoid negative influences like pro-anorexia and pro-self harm blogs. On the positive side, Zoe and Caitlin did however think that digital media could be a beneficial influence on mental health as well – helping you to feel connected and part of a community, offering the opportunity to hear from other young bloggers going through hard times, and enabling easy access to self help resources online. Their message for schools was clear “don’t ban digital media, use it to your advantage”.
To promote positive emotional wellbeing on digital media among their peers, Zoe and Caitlin explained how they had worked with other young people on the Aye Mind project to create quirky, eye-catching animations called gifs. These contained strong messages that the girls had thought up themselves, such as “it’s ok not to be ok”; “a way to help yourself is to help someone else”; and “sometimes it can be hard to find the right person, it can be the most unexpected one. But it’s worth the wait and it can make all the difference”. You can see the girls’ gifs on the Aye Mind website.
Lastly, pupils from Lesmahagow School, Jennifer, Nicola, Rory and Jonathan, spoke at the conference about the mental health awareness week they organised following the death by suicide of one of their fellow pupils. The awareness week included yoga, mindfulness, sports and talks. Keep an eye on the Enquire young people’s blog, where the Lesmahagow pupils will share more about their awareness week. Enquire will also be blogging soon about the mind maps exhibited at the conference, which were made by young people affected by parental substance abuse, chronic illness and racism, and those campaigning for better provision of CAMHS services.
Congratulations and a huge thank you to all of the young people who participated in the event and made it a success.
Information and Development Officer for Children and Young People
Enquire – children’s rights to support for learning
Enquire is managed by Children in Scotland – the collective voice for children, young people and families in Scotland; and organisations and businesses that have a significant impact on children’s lives in Scotland.
0131 313 8852