Mental health has carried a stigma for centuries. Now, finally, we are recognising that our emotional wellbeing needs as much attention and care as our physical health, particularly in an age when competition is rampant and technology is bringing a relentless stream of new and unfamiliar challenges – particularly for teenagers who are already dealing with massive changes in their lives.
Prince Harry has been one of the main players in raising awareness on this previously taboo subject that has left many to suffer alone, too embarrassed and ashamed to reach out and ask for help.
His experience of walking behind Princess Diana’s coffin aged 12 with the eyes of the world upon him and maintaining a stiff upper lip led to a troubled and often head-line grabbing youth. “I don’t think any child should be asked to do that under any circumstances,” he told Newsweek magazine.
He also explained to Bryony Gordon for her Mad World series on mental health, “My way of dealing with it was, yeah, sticking my head in the sand, refusing to ever think about my mum because why would that help, it’s only going to make you sad. It’s not going to bring her back.”
Eventually, Harry went into therapy on his brother Prince William’s advice. Subsequently, the royal duo started the charity Heads Together along with Prince William’s wife Kate, the Duchess of Cambridge, to try to “normalise the conversation”. And this year, Harry has joined forces with Oprah Winfrey for a new documentary series that aims to inspire viewers to have an honest conversation about the challenges we face.
It is a conversation that June Donnan, the Deputy Headteacher of King’s College School, La Moraleja, Madrid, has been holding for some time now. As the first Youth Mental Health First Aid course trainer in Spain, June has managed to impart her knowledge to at least 80 of her colleagues at King’s. “Having 80 trained staff is very different from having one psychologist in the schools, who may not pick up on the day-to-day issues,” she says.
Several years ago, June introduced the Pupil Voice wellbeing program to Kings that offers students a voice via a handful of Wellbeing Ambassadors who try to create a sense of wellbeing in the school. One of the target areas was stress and students were taught to use ‘stress buckets’ with taps to release stress if they became blocked.
“We talk about coping strategies and strategies that are less helpful and we try to get the students to recognise issues and develop their own ways of coping,” says June.
This term, June schooled two groups of Sixth Form students in King’s College Soto de Viñuelas in mental health awareness, a half-day work
shop that was over-subscribed and repeated due to demand.
“People are talking more about mental health issues in general,” says June. “And, because of the training that has been going on over the past few years at King’s, it has become a topic that is more openly discussed here. There are so many different issues facing young people today such as body image, social media, exam pressure, parental pressure. The course helps the students to become more aware of their own mental health and gives them the knowledge to deal with it.”
Though June’s student workshop is no more than an introduction to a subject that affects us all, it is an important step to becoming what author and research professor at Houston University Brené Brown might call “a wholehearted person”, someone she describes as having the courage to be imperfect and the compassion to be kind to themselves first; a person who is willing to let go of who they thought they should be in order to be who they are.