Following on from last week’s interview discussing how parents can help struggling teenagers, here is Part 2 of our interview with mental health expert Cami Moorjani. Cami has many years experience working in mental health as both a coach and counsellor to people of all ages, and across the whole mental health spectrum. This time, we talked about how schools can support pupils with mental health difficulties, useful coping strategies, how to talk about mental health and why the government should be doing more.
In what ways can we encourage young people to maybe be more open, and talk about mental health?
Destigmatisation is so important, and awareness in schools. If we taught young people sensitivity to mental illness, when it’s happening, give them a language to describe it and help teach them techniques that allow them to help manage things for themselves… that would be a great start! That would cover about 50% of the lower-level stress, anxiety and low mood stuff. And then people who really needed professional help – battling clinical depression or really difficult personal circumstances – they’re the ones that could have access to professional help, and would also be able to recognise they needed it, in the absence of an effective coping strategy.
So do you think mental health awareness should be taught in schools as part of the syllabus?
Raising awareness has to be a good thing. I’m not a massive fan of labelling any possible condition, but if it helps people understand, why not? I’d like to see information made available that would help young people support themselves. Give them a language to find out for themselves what they’re struggling with, recognising their own mind states, becoming aware of when they start to feel overloaded and stressed, and teaching them techniques to try and manage that. So they can put together a toolkit to help themselves, or their friends.
It’s a shame that we in the UK are yet to get on the early support bandwagon. It’s expensive, but we need to provide support in secondary schools, teach young people about mindfulness and how to manage stress. We’re a bit slow on the uptake but hopefully we’ll get there!
And do you think schools are doing enough to help?
The school my kids were at have started showing more interest in the mental health field, offering parent information on self-harm and eating disorders, so I’m getting the sense there must be more of a need for it. Whether from parents, or young people themselves, or just a wider trend, I get the sense it’s more important and relevant now. But where I am (around Dundee), there’s no getting a counsellor – especially for children – unless you pay for it. So mostly it’s quite expensive, unless you’re at university, where they all have a counselling service.
Counselling and professional help isn’t as available as it should be for a lot of young people across the country. There’s very little government money funding counselling – nowhere near enough, so it’s hard to blame schools. And I do worry about how many young people would like access to counselling, but can’t, because their parents can’t afford it, or don’t want to put their parents in that position – it’s an expensive business. That’s why I’d absolutely love to see more counsellors in schools, so kids can seek help without having to bring their parents into it. But at the moment that’s not really an option. I believe that would make a huge difference. There are a lot of great projects and charities across the country, but they need supporting.
You mentioned mindfulness, is that particularly effective?
There’s a school in America that introduced mindfulness instead of punishment and the results are amazing. Instead of giving detentions for bad behaviour, they have a mindfulness session with a trained practitioner, and I genuinely believe it would make a huge difference to our children’s ability to cope. There’s a lot of projects like that that give you the possibilities of what we could do that might help.
Teaching things like mindfulness in schools can help teenagers identify the difference between a fixed mindset and a growth mindset – if we can loosen up around making mistakes, we can make the whole thing less stressful, worry less about being judged and cope better with complex situations. There’s a lot of stuff out there we could be sharing with young people. Then it becomes more of a language they can talk about, and there’s less taboo around asking for help, because they can identify and talk about what’s happening to them.
So a lot of people currently just don’t know how to talk about mental health?
A lot of people will shrug or sigh or say they just feel ‘mleh’ – there’s not even a word for it, to describe that grey, helpless feeling. But there are lovely bits of stuff around like the Black Dog Campaign – some days it’s a big black dog, sometimes small, but that gives you a language that feels acceptable. There’s all sorts of things we could do that aren’t that difficult, and they give you a language to talk about it
And this is a language that everyone should know, not just people with a specific mental ‘illness’?
There’ll be a period for everyone in their life when they’ll struggle – we shouldn’t be treating mental illness as the exception. That’ll be in most people’s frame of reference – everyone will have a period of low mood or struggle. It’s part of being human – sometimes there’ll be a reason for feeling awful, sometimes there won’t but if that’s how you feel it’ll be tough either way and can be tough to carry on. But we’re treating that as part of the exception, not something that happens to everyone. That would help remove the stigma. Even now, while there’s lots of good work being done, I still get the sense that a lot of people think of it as something that happens to other people, not an inevitable part of life for everyone. If we all acknowledged that next week won’t always be as cheery as last week, it would make the burden feel a lot less lonely.
Brilliant, thanks so much for your incredible insight, Cami!
Cami Moorjani is currently working as a learning and development consultant for DC Thomson, helping to design, run and build development courses and offer one to one coaching, supporting people with specific challenges. She is also a qualified person centred counsellor.
By David Bard
David is a Minerva Pro Tutor who specialises in humanities subjects at A Level and is a trained expert in the 7 + and 11 + exams. Outside of tutoring, David writes blogs about everything that’s trending in education.
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