Teacher Beth Cameron-Lyle explains how lottery-funded Breathing Space project at Alun School in Mold is helping young people better cope with pressures of modern day life.
Let’s start with some startling facts:
- One in ten children aged between 5 and 16 years (three in every classroom) has a mental health problem, and many continue to have these problems into adulthood. Half of those with lifetime mental health problems first experience symptoms by the age of 14.
- Among teenagers, rates of depression and anxiety have increased by 70% in the past 25 years.
- One in five children have symptoms of depression and almost a third of the 16-25-year-olds surveyed had thought about or attempted suicide.
- Ten years ago, detailed estimates put the costs of mental health problems in England at £77 billion, including costs of lost productivity and the wider impacts on wellbeing. More recent estimates suggest the costs may be closer to £105 billion.
I’ve been a teacher in North Wales since 1999 and with the new Millennium have watched a generation change in front of my eyes. It is all too easy to group and label teens as the ‘hoodie generation’ – changed so much from the days of boys flying homemade kites and girls wearing ribbons in their hair.
The childhood described by our grandparents has no strand of familiarity or reality to many of our young people anymore. With the surge of mobile technology, social networking sites, normalisation of violent and sexually explicit gaming materials, changing family structures and dynamics, changes in diet and nutrition, pressures to achieve academically and be ‘just so’ in their online persona – boys flexing, girls pouting.
Pressures and expectations arrive in very different packages in 21st century Wales. And alongside these we want our young to succeed – to enter the workforce and society with their heads held high, decorated with high quality qualifications and armed with personal and inter-social skills which will enable them to navigate this wonderful and challenging landscape that is life.
To access learning a person needs to be in a receptive state. To access learning a person needs to have the skills to focus and concentrate. The ‘traffic’ of modern life, as we call in on the ‘dot b’ teens’ course, very often interferes with the young person’s desire, ability or intent to learn. A core aim of mindfulness teaching and learning at the Breathing Space is not to stop the ‘hustle and bustle’ of these congested thoughts and diversions, but to offer children and young people mindful methods of taking care of themselves, showing themselves self-compassion and paying greater attention to the ‘here and now’.
Our head teacher and governors were immediately supportive of the project’s intention and ethos, and put into place a staff eight week MBSR(Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction) The Breathing Space’s core aim is to create, build and sustain an environment and culture where we share a common ground of what ‘being mindful’ or doing a ‘three minute breathing space’ meant. The Breathing Space / Y Seibiant at The Alun School is now a shared school and community space, which is able to exist because of our successful Awards For All Grant application.
The grant allowed us to purchase yoga, meditation equipment and furniture which has transformed a functional exam room to a nurturing and practical space. Awards For All gave us the solid foundations upon which we could build: local businesses came to see and donated goods. Y Seobiant has also received funding and support from Flintshire Integrated Youth Provision which sees the project as an opportunity for early intervention. This support from Flintshire Integrated Youth Service has allowed our bilingual team of instructors to grow and offer a broader raft of opportunities to young people.
The Breathing Space, at the Alun School, is now a tangible project, all thanks to the support and confidence given by the National Lottery Community Fund. From this space we now have a team who will be teaching courses of the Mindfulness in Schools ‘project ‘dot b’ and ‘paws b’. Alongside this we will be running Relax Kids sessions. We have a Welsh speaking yoga teacher, specialising in the form of DRU Yoga and DRU Yoga dance, particularly for children and teens. Accredited courses offer young people practical interventions – understanding the coping strategies that we might initially lay our hands on to get us through difficult situations – however large or small.
A person’s wellbeing and emotional resilience is such a core aspect of the happiness of our present and future self. Young people will experience the difference between emotional reactions and mindful responses and enjoy opportunities to ‘be in the moment’ – whatever that might bring. It is totally unacceptable that suicide is the biggest killer of our children in Wales or that our young people are increasingly turning to alcohol and drugs, or other high risk behaviours as a coping mechanism during turbulent or testing times.
The Breathing Space is offering a change – new opportunities and a healthy support for self. Y Seibiant will be present at the National Eisteddfod in Flint this year and we are all so excited about the opportunities that we are now able to offer those young people and their families; with thanks to National Lottery Awards For All.