Four pupils from Brownlow Integrated College – Evelyn Borr, Ben Hogg, Ellie Rose Hanratty and Malia Marken – accompanied by Pastoral Care Director, Mark Callender, joined with other young people from the integrated education sector across Northern Ireland to have their say on mental health issues at a conference at Drumlins Integrated Primary School, Ballynahinch, on Thursday 10 October 2019 – World Mental Health Day.
‘Listening … A Mental Health Conference’ was organised by the IEF in partnership with NICIE and was supported by the National Lottery Community Fund.
Paul Collins, campaign fundraiser with the IEF, explained that schools in NI have seen a dramatic increase in the number of young people experiencing mental health issues and it was important to include young people in discussions of the problem: “The aim of this conference is to provide an open environment to listen to children and young people. Teachers and parents need to find out what mental health issues are affecting young people in order to provide them with access to the right type of support.”
The audience heard first from speakers from primary schools and colleges, and then listened to Richard Pengelly, Permanent Secretary of the Department of Health, who said: “Young people are faced with a number of pressures including social media influences. Online bullying and exam pressure have all contributed to rising levels of anxiety and stress. It is important that we equip and educate our young people to deal with these issues and to look after their mental health. There is support and help available for young people and their families and I urge them to avail of these services.”
Participants were facilitated in small groups to share their thoughts on stresses and anxieties experienced by young people, before generating ideas and actions to develop school-based support. NI Commissioner for Children and Young People, Koulla Yiasouma gave the final address at the conference. She said: “Providing an education is about more than academic learning and today’s event is a great example of schools playing a crucial role in promoting and safeguarding the emotional wellbeing and mental health of our children and young people. We must listen to them when they feel unwell and we must learn from them when designing the services they need.”