During November 2017, I had the opportunity to be involved in a programme at Imperial College, called Open Minds. The aim of this project is to send university students in secondary schools throughout the UK to provide mental health education to teenagers. As part of Open Minds I had the opportunity to design and run six mental health workshops for about 80 kids aged 13 to 14. The workshops focused on educating students about the topics of depression, anxiety, suicide. The goal was to teach them about the signs and symptoms for each of these topics, how to help a friend in need, a loved one or one’s self when going through a rough time, while promoting the importance of openness. The ultimate end result, would be to spark a conversation between the students, to make them think about these topics that do not usually get addressed in the education system.
For the first five weeks weeks of the programme I attended training by professionals including lectures and workshops from psychiatrists, psychologists and school teachers. The training provided not only knowledge about disorders but also how to talk to kids a without triggering negative emotions.
The six workshops took place in January and February 2018. Designing a class to teach teenagers about these “heavy” subjects seemed to be an exceptionally hard duty to accomplish. I strived to design the classes to be “fun” by including a number of activities such as True - False, scenario cases, roleplaying and debating. I wanted to endeavour, to keep a dialogue going, not only deliver raw information as that way I would probably lose the students’ attention. I approached the topics honestly, and directly asked the students specific questions. I let them do most of the talking, only guiding conversations. Using characters they knew for the scenario cases, such as Elsa from Frozen with symptoms of depression, made it more fun and relatable to them.
At the end of the classes, I got each student to fill out a short questionnaire which I used to evaluate how the following workshops could be improved. Some common themes occurred in the comment section of the feedback form. Almost one third of the kids indicated that they enjoyed being taught about mental health issues using character scenarios as it helped them understand the signs and symptoms better. The majority said that they enjoyed having the chance to give their opinion as well as having the time to explain or elaborate their points. Lastly, one of the questions d was: “What could be done to improve the sessions?”, three out of four of kids replied “It would be good if those of us who suffer from these negative or suicidal thoughts could have the tutors that came in to provide personal help”. This made me realise something I knew but did not really think about: even in those classes with all those happy, opinionated, loud teenagers, some of them were suffering in silence.