Throughout the week from 4th – 8th February Northgate had a focus on mental health. Highlighting the Time to Change, Time to Talk campaign, Miss Blake started the week with assemblies for the lower and upper school. She mentioned the fact that we all have mental health and that perhaps people find it more difficult to accept others have a mental health illness as it is not visible such as when you break a leg. A video was played to highlight the importance of talking and opening up to someone if you are struggling.
Across the school there were posters encouraging you to ‘ask twice’. It is all too easy to ask someone if they are ok and accept that if they say they are, then they are. Sometimes we might notice changes in our friends’ behaviour and so asking twice might encourage them to talk if they need to open up. Citizenship lessons over the week were on the theme of mental health, giving students a bit more of an insight into different mental health issues and their own mental wellbeing.
We highlighted on social media the importance of asking twice if your mate is acting differently. However, sometimes you may feel, “But what if I ask twice and they open up? I don’t know anything about mental health!”
Don’t worry – you don’t have to be an expert to open up about mental health. You can follow these 5 simple steps (taken from the Time to Change website: https://www.time-to-change.org.uk/about-mental-health):
1. Take it seriously
It can feel embarrassing and exposing to talk about your thoughts and feelings, especially if they’re disturbing. Don’t laugh or treat it like a joke. However strange it might seem to you, remember it’s real to them.
2. Listen and reflect
You don’t have to have all the answers – just listening can make a big difference. Try and show that you’re taking on board what they’re saying. You can do this by reflecting – that is, saying something simple like “that sounds really difficult”. You could also say something like “thanks for telling me”, to show that you appreciate having the conversation.
3. Ask questions
We worry about prying when it comes to others’ mental health, but it’s better to ask questions. It can help them to get things off their chest, and by keeping the conversation going it shows that you care.
Some of the questions you might ask:
- “What does it feel like?”
- “What kind of thoughts are you having?”
- “How can I help?”
4. Don’t try and fix it
It’s human nature to want to fix things, but expecting things to change right away isn’t helpful. It’s not your job to make their mental health problem go away – it’s often more helpful just to listen, ask open questions and do things you’d normally do together.
5. Build your knowledge
You might find it helpful to learn a bit more about what they’re going through. If they mention a specific diagnosis, you could learn more about it and read personal stories by people who have experienced similar things.
You might want to learn about the professional help that’s available to them and suggest that they explore those options. Our friends at Mind have a handy guide on seeking help for a mental health problem, and our friends at Rethink Mental Illness have advice on what to do in a crisis: https://www.rethink.org/helpnow.
On 7th February it was ‘Time to Talk’ day. We held a bake sale with students having the change to come and buy a cake and have a chat if they wanted to. Throughout the week we asked staff and students to pledge their support and campaign against the mental health stigma. 1 in 10 young people will experience a mental health problem. Showing each other that mental health is an important topic, and starting conversations around it, will help encourage more students and staff to be there for each other. So, whether you pledge to listen to your friend if they need to talk, text someone to check they are ok or ask someone twice if they are really alright, make sure you pledge to support them.
A big thank you to those who made cakes or bought them in our bake sale, £54.75 was raised. The money will be spent on buying resources to support Northgate students with their mental wellbeing. We hope that our students take on board the thoughts and ideas from the week, know who they can talk to if they need to and keep supporting each other.
Below are a couple of the videos we shared on social media from the Time to Change, Time to Talk campaign.