This time last year, my heart was breaking for someone I love dearly. A sportsman, able to play music from memory, could entertain us endlessly with magic tricks, a beautiful laugh…
He struggled with peers at school. Didn’t fit in. Found some subjects and tasks bamboozling. Didn’t make a fuss. But he knew he was falling behind, and the pressure was on.
He felt that he was broken and couldn’t be fixed.
This weekend last year, he made two serious attempts on his life. He still bears the scars. All of us do.
A bed was finally found for him at one of only a few psychiatric units set up to manage young people. Months later he left with a diagnosis, back to his family, back to school, this time with everyone more clued up, aware, ready. He’s doing OK.
There have been so many questions we’ve asked ourselves about how it all came to crisis point, what we could have done earlier, differently – as family, extended family, as a community, in school.
With rising numbers of young people seeking help, the pressures on mental health services are increasing, and long wait times are difficult for families and schools to manage.
As family, we didn’t really have the insight to address the risks we saw developing. We could have asked more direct questions, encouraged more open conversation, been more accepting. We wrote a lot off as teenage behaviour, when there was a more serious pattern emerging.
What more could the school have done to give him a safe space? To alert his parents of their own concerns? To enable his peers to come forward with their own worries? A recent survey by Mental Health Foundation Scotland found that 70% of Scotland's teachers lack training to address mental health problems in schools.
Is the tide turning? More is being done now to address mental health and wellbeing from early years to senior school. Government policy seems to be moving forward through the new Mental Health Strategy.
At the Festival we will be showcasing current approaches and featuring some pupils’ creative work that explores wellbeing.
And as a community, what care and support do we really offer? We have sports clubs, dance schools, music groups, uniformed groups – around here we’re better resourced than most areas. Would a young person find a safe place to talk there? Maybe, depending on the workers. Is it time to look again, ask people who engage with young people if they feel equipped enough to talk about mental health? Create different spaces for young people to relax and be free from the pressures, be creative, connect and talk?
It seems obvious that our approaches need to start in early years, with early interventions and preventative action – to equip young people better. And we as community, as third sector organisations, have an important role to play in raising community mental wellbeing support for our young people. Even where we live, there are young people needing more help.
This is all far beyond the Bearsden Festival’s scope but we hope over the 10 days to put the spotlight on mental health and wellbeing in our community and what more needs to be done.
- Creative spaces for children, young people and families
- Recognising the contribution of volunteers
- Celebrating efforts and talents
- Raising awareness
- Asking the questions