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Being Well: Shedding light on youth mental health

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Being Well: Shedding light on youth mental health

With increased global attention paid to the nuances and complexities of mental health and mental illnesses, UWCSEA has been keeping a finger on the pulse on the latest conversations on wellbeing, to understand how it is shaped within the context of young people’s lives.

The College’s strategic commitment to wellbeing is ultimately woven into the UWCSEA culture and different elements of our learning programme. A strong central pillar of this is the focus on enhancing personal growth and resilience of our students and school community. Whether this is done through counselling or peer support, or through awareness-building events and activities that the College participates and initiates, its effects ripple out to our students, staff and parents.

One such event was a recent community dialogue, HeART of the Matter, held to coincide with Mental Health Awareness week in October. Over 60 members of the UWCSEA community gathered at IDEAS Hub on Dover Campus to explore art therapy and its uses in mental health and emotional recovery. The event featured a variety of student-led arts activities, and two panel discussions featuring Adrian Pang of theatre company Pangdemonium, Joshua Gooley, neuroscientist specialising in the effects of sleep deprivation, child psychologist Emma Waddington, youth worker Joe Chan from REACH youth services and other specialists in the field of arts therapy.

Said Danielle Solk, Art Teacher at UWCSEA Dover and one of the co-organisers of the event, “I wanted to do something that would help the students while highlighting the usefulness of the arts in sustaining wellbeing.  The arts are often viewed as a secondary subject despite their enormous importance in giving young people a voice."

She continued, “It's really important that kids see their parents learning about this at the same time so that if the time comes that people want to talk about it, it’s a normalised subject. Everybody is affected in one way or another - whether it’s them directly, or people they know, or their family members.”

Mental health is not a ‘good to have’: it’s a must-have. UWCSEA recognises how imperative it is to always be at the forefront of institutionalising practices that promote mental health, to ensure that all in our community are well taken care of.

Asking for help

By Hanmin Lee, Grade 12, Dover Campus

The first time I remember hearing the words ‘mental health’ in a classroom was in Grade 7. My life skills teacher taught us that, just as we’d see a doctor for colds or use plasters for cuts, it was important to care for our mental wellbeing. As my 13-year-old self did with most things, I assumed I was still years away from having to worry about it.

High School came, however, which was when I began noticing more and more people around me feeling strained. For some of them, it seemed like they had entirely forgotten what it was like to be themselves. That point also came to me a few years ago. I felt plagued with emptiness and a sense of complete disconnection from everything around me.

There wasn’t a concrete reason for me to feel this way—I had great teachers, financial security, friends and family. But for some reason, an intangible something left a gaping hole inside me. I always knew help was there for me, but I decided that staying silent was the best option.

It was overwhelming trying to hold in everything. I think the reason so many of us try to keep things in is that, at some point, we assume we’ve lost our merit to ask for help. Only when I broke my silence and reached out for help did I start to piece together what was actually going on in my head. After having those conversations with the people around me, I realised that my perception of mental health couldn’t have been more wrong. I found that ‘me too’ were the most comforting words in the world, and the more ‘me too’s I heard, the less reserved I became.

I’ve taken a more active stance on mental health over the past few months of my life, and I've been surprised at just how many people have had a story to share with me. I've noticed that, in an odd way, mental illness is like the clubs we have in school—you don’t really pay attention to who’s there at first, but take a closer look and you’ll be surprised to find even the most unexpected people as members. Anyone can join, regardless of where they’re from or how old they are. This ‘mental health soc’ has a catch though—every single member is tricked into thinking that they’re the only member, no matter how many of us there really are.

We’re all a part of the same, wider community, and let’s be honest—it’s a stressful community to be in sometimes. But it’s also what gives us those dearest little qualities to hold onto whenever we’re overwhelmed. Our minds are supposed to be messy, and it’s natural for us to make the wrong choices sometimes. Honesty alone is by no means a guaranteed cure for mental illness, but it’s something that points us in the right direction. I’m sharing this for the sake of my past self, the people who have shared their experiences with me, and those who find themselves struggling right now—let’s work towards an open community, where our actions are driven by compassion and acceptance.

Read High School Principal Nick Alchin's blogs, as he articulates what a focus on wellbeing could actually look like in practice and the link between wellbeing and activism. 

25 Nov 2019
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