A Service Users Experience of Mental Ill-health in Childhood and Education

This week is focusing on the service user’s experience. Hannah is a University of Portsmouth graduate and is employed as an administrator at the University of Portsmouth’s Student’s Union. She is also a Time to Change Ambassador. Hannah first began to experience mental health issues during her teenage years. In this blog post Hannah describes her experience as a young person in education experiencing mental ill-health.
girl-in-bed-heart-mug
*Girl featured in image is not the author of the blog-post*

My name is Hannah, I’m 26 years old and I’ve struggled with anxiety and depression since I was about 14 years old. My depression can result in me not wanting to face the real world, not having the energy to get out of bed or get dressed, feeling worthless, not wanting to see people, feeling inconsolable and so low I just start crying at the slightest thing or so numb I feel nothing – I can never decide which is worse, and that’s just to name a few symptoms. My anxiety can be equally debilitating. Self-doubt and criticisms going round and round in my head making me physically freeze or panic. It can turn me into a quiet, nervous, frantic individual and even make me physically ill. I can naturally be an over thinker and when anxiety takes over this means I constantly second guess myself when I pride myself on the fact that when I make a decision, I MAKE a decision!

Depression and anxiety are not always exclusive. Yes they can affect me at the same time and one can lead to another but this isn’t always the case. They come and go, they can be stronger at times than others, I am not in a constant state of depression and/or anxiety.  I can go for months at a time not feeling depressed or anxious, or not such that it affects my life or having any major symptoms. I have had times where I’ve had a long stretch of nothing big and then one or both kick in and I have to deal with it, to have friends say ‘oh but you were doing so well’. It can just hit like a tidal wave. In retrospect there are generally things that have triggered this but they aren’t always obvious at the time or controllable. Other times they just slowly creep up on me until it becomes overwhelming. Usually my mind has been pre-occupied and self-care has taken a back seat but it can still surprise me

All of this is a brief snap shot into what can happen when I experience depression and anxiety, however that being said this doesn’t mean that I want or need sympathy and I don’t expect you to understand, I just need acceptance. This is something I have that I have to be aware of and deal with from time to time, like someone with diabetes watching their diet and taking injections or an asthmatic with breathing exercises or an inhaler. It doesn’t define me, it is just a small part of me.

I’ve also managed to turn my experiences on their head and thrive from them! Over the last year or so I’ve discovered a passion for mental health advocacy, volunteering, campaigning and supporting others. Through this I have been able to take my negative experiences and turn them into something positive. Now it’s not all hunky dory, I do have my bad days where my depression and anxiety make it hard to get through the day. However my workplace are extremely supportive and they have helped me put a Wellness Action Plan together, to help when I’m struggling. I also thrive by doing the following:

hiking-legs-and-feet

  • Doing activities I enjoy like dancing, reading, listening to music, being creative, spending time with friends, visiting new places and discovering new things
  • Focussing on the positives, I’ve recently started a GLAD (Grateful, Learned, Achieved, Delighted) diary which I write in ever day
  • Practicing mindfulness
  • Look after myself – good diet, exercise etc.
  • Writing my blog

Instead of letting my mental health be a negative thing, I’m doing everything I can to change my experiences into a positive thing, learn from them and hopefully in the process help and inspire others. Having said all this though, as a friend of mine recently said, sometimes when living with a mental illness surviving is thriving

*You can follow Hannah on Twitter here.* Links are NOT affiliates.*

To cite this post: MICE Hub and Morton, H. 9th August 2017, A Service User’s Experience of Mental Ill-Health in Childhood and Education.

Mental Health and Safeguarding in Childhood (1880-1920)

The approaches to safeguarding and supporting mental health and wellbeing in childhood today, are not all that different from those in the Victorian and Edwardian times.  Studying a total of 120 case files from the Children’s Society’s archives from 1880-1920, with a specific focus on language around mental health, revealed a number of similarities. The reasons for being taken into care, were and are still very much the same, namely based around the relationship between child and family, mental health of the parents and alcoholism (and surprisingly few children were taken into care due to being orphans in the Victorian/Edwardian times as is commonly thought).

ESHHS blog pic 1

Joined up working and multi-agency teamwork is now, as it was then, problematic; practice is fragmented, partly due to lack of funding. In addition to this, the child’s ‘voice’ seems to be only sporadically acknowledged – then and now. For example, one case file from 1920 refers to a 16 year old girl asking to ‘come out of the asylum’ and ‘start afresh’; this never happened. Similar developments can still be seen now, where children have a lack of choice in what happens to them in care, with care leavers describing the care system as ‘extremely disappointing’, whilst reflecting upon this. Other similarities are a focus on the child’s behaviour, and practical and cognitive abilities (e.g. think about the current focus on ‘NEET’, not in education, training or employment), at the cost of attention for mental health and wellbeing.

This research was presented at the European Society for the History of Human Sciences conference (ESHHS) in Italy, by Dr Wendy Sims-Schouten an academic in Childhood Studies at the University of Portsmouth, drawing on her research on mental health in childhood, funded by the Wellcome Trust. The purpose of ESHHS is to promote international, multidisciplinary cooperation in scholarly activity and research in the history of the human sciences.

ESHHS blog pic 3

The term ‘mental health’ was popularised in the early 1900s by physicians and social reformers. Over a century later, mental health and wellbeing are recurrent themes in the media and on government agendas, with evidence that still more needs to be done on this front. This research shows how many of the issues that concern contemporary studies of childhood (e.g. parenting, poverty) have a historical trajectory that informs the present. Stigma continues to play a significant role, and understandings are subject to the interests and values of the people, organisations and institutions attempting to define and interpret terms.

Comparing the historic research in the Children’s Society archives with current date from 84 interviews with school children, young care leavers and parents reveals that although language around mental health and wellbeing has developed (e.g. correspondence in 1880 refers to a young girl as a ‘lunatic’ and a father as ‘hopelessly insane’) the approach taken by those responsible for children’s welfare has changed remarkably little in over 100 years.  More needs to be done to improve mental health care and reduce stigma and I hope some of this research can be used to challenge today’s interpretation and treatment and get the best for our children.

The Future of Education: Learning Throughout The Life-course Conference

This year’s conference was hosted by The School of Education and Childhood studies in collaboration with the Higher Education Forum. The conference was organised by Dr Wendy Sims-Schouten and Dr Jessica Gagnon who led a team of academics and administration staff.  It is the sixth annual conference and this year focused on ‘The Future of Education: Learning throughout the Life-course.’ This year over 120 delegates attended the event and lots of participation took place in the form of questions and comments. The event was organised around 4 themes that are central to the work of the department: Mental Health and Wellbeing in Childhood and Education, Childhood and International Development, Education Perspectives, and Inclusion and Diversity. 

Wendy Sims-Schouten and Stephen Corbett begin the conference
Wendy Sims-Schouten and Stephen Corbett begin the conference

The scene for these themes was set by the two keynote speakers, both professors exploring current themes relating to educational and life-course outcomes for future generations. The first speaker was Professor Nigel Thomas, Professor of Childhood and Youth Research in the School of Social Work, Care and Community at the University of Central Lancashire on ’Human Beings Need Something from One Another when they come to places Like Schools’ Participation, Recognition and Wellbeing and Professor Kalwant Bhopal, Education and Social Justice and Bridge Professorial Research Fellow in the Centre for Research in Race and Education, in the School of Education at The University of Birmingham on BME Academic Flight from UK Higher Education. 

Top: Keynote speaker Professor Nigel Thomas. Bottom: Dr Jessica Gagnon introduces keynote speaker Professor Kalwant Bhopal
Top: Keynote speaker Professor Nigel Thomas.
Bottom: Dr Jessica Gagnon introduces keynote speaker Professor Kalwant Bhopal

The keynote speakers raised a number of important issues which generated a whole host of questions to be addressed through future research and collaboration. In particular, Professor Kalwant Bhopal, University of Birmingham, delivered an array of alarming statistics regarding the disadvantages faced by BME students through her research which is linked to the inequalities still experienced by those from BME backgrounds at all levels. In particular, the discrepancies between the number of, not only BME students, but those from other WP groups, who gain access to Oxbridge and Russell Group Universities and the under-representation of BME academic staff across all HEIs (ECU 2015), (HEFCE 2016), (Bhopal 2016), (Independent Schools Council (2016)).

Professor Nigel Thomas delivered his findings from a current research project working in collaboration with various Australian universities and organisations in partnership to look at the link between wellbeing and participation of students. Findings were generally optimistic, but he raised a key point that although students rated ‘having a say’ as particularly important, they need more than ‘just a voice’. That it is important to them that their voice is ‘heard’ by influential people and taken seriously so that they have real choice and influence. Professor Thomas reported that overall, meaningful participation led to recognition and improved student wellbeing.  He also discussed how this would work within the school context and the feeling of threat faced by teachers when pupils are openly invited to participate in what are traditionally adult conversations, should this strategy be implemented (Bingham 2001).  One of the key take home messages being that, “effective participation has a key payoff in enhanced wellbeing.”

Wendy Sims-Schouten and Sylvia Horton are editors of the SECS department's most recent publication: Rethinking Social Issues in Education for the 21st Century - UK Perspectives on International Concerns
Dr. Wendy Sims-Schouten and Dr Angie Dharmaraj- Savicks discussing the departments most recent publication: Rethinking Social Issues in Education for the 21st Century – UK Perspectives on International Concerns, of which Wendy Sims-Schouten and Sylvia Horton are editors.

The conference also introduced new and ongoing research themes within the department including; Dr Wendy Sims-Schouten’s Mental Health in Childhood and Education Hub, Dr Jessica Gagnon’s multiple projects around the themes of Higher Education Experiences: Equity and Inclusion, Dr Francesca Salvi, Dr Angie Dharmaraj-Savicks and Dr Ann Emerson’s Global Education, Childhoods and Outreach, among others.  Important issues and questions were raised that researchers in the department will be working on during the coming year. The conference provides a fantastic opportunity for staff to showcase their work and to meet and listen to academics and practitioners from other universities, colleges and educational organisations.

Rethinking Social Issues in Education for the 21st Century - UK Perspectives on International Concerns. Editors - Wendy Sims-Schouten and Sylvia Horton
Rethinking Social Issues in Education for the 21st Century – UK Perspectives on International Concerns. Editors – Wendy Sims-Schouten and Sylvia Horton

 

References:

Bhopal, K., Brown, H. and Jackson, J (2016) ‘BME academic flight from UK to overseas higher education: aspects of marginalisation and exclusion.’ British Educational Research Journal. 42, 2: 240-257. DOI: 10.1002/berj.3204

Bingham C (2001) Schools of Recognition: Identity Politics and Classroom Practices. Lanham, MD: Rowman and Littlefield.

ECU (2015). Equality in Higher Education: Statistical Report 2015. Part 1: staff. London: ECU.

Funding for higher education in England for 2016-17: HEFCE grant letter from BIS (2016) http://www.hefce.ac.uk/news/newsarchive/2016/Name,107598,en.html

Independent Schools Council (2016) Annual Census Report (2016). Retrieved from: https://www.isc.co.uk/research/annual-census/isc-annual-census-2016/