My Experience of Teaching Secondary School Kids about Mental Health
Last year, I wrote about my experience of teaching secondary school teenagers. That was my first time where I went into schools to teach about mental health. This year, I did that again. As with any event in life, I learnt a lot from this one. In fact, I learnt just as much from this experience as I did from my first.
I therefore thought that I would write another piece on it.
Some details have been changed to prevent anyone being identified.
How did I feel about doing it?
Nervous. Absolutely nervous.
Despite doing this before, the feelings of slight anxiety still persisted. Imagine being in charge of a group of 14 year old teenagers. Many of them will be going through that angry teenager phase, and I really didn’t want to be in the middle of all that. I am rather sensitive as it is, so I would have had to put on a very strong, brave face. I said it in my post last year but I’ll say it again: I don’t know how teachers manage to do it every day.
Not only that, but things were a little bit different for me this year. We’re lucky in that we have a couple of other Medical Students with us in the classroom, with us working together to make the session work. However, since I had done this before, I was allocated the role of team lead. The other Medical Students who I was with – who were absolutely brilliant – were very nervous too and looked to me for calmness.
“I’m not nervous at all, don’t worry!” I remember saying to them, hoping to transfer some of my fake confidence on to them. “You’ll be completely fine. In fact,” I added, in the same fake confident type of voice. “If they are disruptive, don’t worry – I’ll step in and shout at them.” Wait, what was I saying? How on Earth would I be able to do that?
The other two Medical Students looked much calmer, however, so I just faked a smile and put my sunglasses on (metaphorically, of course).
So why did I do it?
The logical question to ask is why I did it. After all, I was extremely nervous about it so surely it would make sense to just avoid it.
The answer is a little deep. I remember how utterly crap it was to be in a state of mental health crisis in my first year of Medical School. The feelings of being alone, scared and at the same time, care-free but insecure (how does that work?) is one which I simply cannot describe. No one should ever have to go through that. If even one person can be helped with this teaching, I will feel as though I have managed to make a great difference.
Starting the lesson
After lots of planning, stress and tube travelling, we arrived to the school. Before we knew it, we entered the classroom and were about to start the lesson.
The class we had this year was rather well behaved. Well, comparatively to last year, I mean. A few of them were still trying to be rather funny, but that was fine.
We started the lesson by putting pictures up of famous people including Robin Williams, Lady Gaga and JK Rowling. The first question we posed to the class was what those celebrities had in common. After some answers that were not necessarily incorrect (including: ‘they’re all famous’, ‘they’re all amazing’ and so on), we got to the crux of it: that they all, at some point in their lives, suffered from some mental health difficulty.
From there, we progressed with the lesson. It went rather smoothly, with lots of oohs and aahs in between. I didn’t get quite the same surprised reaction this year as I did last year when I told everyone that depression was an illness, but that didn’t matter.
Feelings through the lesson
As soon as the lesson started, my feelings of nervousness and anxiety were replaced with feelings of enthusiasm. It just felt good to be talking about something that was so close to my heart, and something which I hope can make a big difference to people. It was utterly amazing.
Highlights of the session
Most of the other stuff that I want to talk about is no different to what I mentioned last year, so I won’t bother repeating myself. Instead, I thought that I would bullet point all the highlights of this year.
- Doing an acting exercise to help spread awareness of where people could get help. My goodness those kids who volunteered to come in front of the class were really talented – it was absolutely brilliant to see, and taught me a lot.
- Seeing the shy kids at the back of the class. They very much reminded me of myself when I was back at school. I was sure not to pick on them (or anyone else, for that matter) – I remembered how much I hated that.
- Actually walking to the session. It was POURING with rain and my smart clothes got drenched. It was freezing too and while walking in the rain, I was cursing myself more than ever for doing this. But it made me feel good about myself. I was willing to go to such lengths – even making myself more anxious – to hopefully prevent others from going through what I did. Enough blowing my own trumpet now.
- Having a kid at the end of the session come up to and thank me for the session. She told me that her mum suffered from bad anxiety, and that she had no idea how to help until that session. That had to be the main highlight for me. Maybe we actually are making a difference.