This week School Librarian Heather Kirkwood from St Joseph's Academy in Kilmarnock talks about the EA Schools Mental Health First Aid Kit and Graphic Novels project. The inspiring project was funded by the School Library Improvement Fund in 2017 and runs in East Ayrshire high schools. It focuses on helping young people experiencing mental health difficulties.
‘It’s okay to not be okay’ feels like it has become a clichéd mantra. But clichés exist for a reason. Statistics suggest that one in eight young people are experiencing some sort of mental health problem, which equates to roughly four pupils in an average secondary school class.
Admitting you are experiencing problems can be a huge leap of faith, but according to Young Minds, the average young person has to wait five weeks for an initial assessment and nine weeks before they receive treatment. Speaking up is a challenge, opening yourself up, and allowing yourself to be vulnerable. Having to then wait for professional help exacerbates the issue.
Teachers, parents, carers and social workers can offer support and a shoulder to cry on, but they can’t make waiting any easier. With this in mind, myself and the other school librarians in East Ayrshire, felt it would be beneficial to create a collection of Mental Health First Aid Kits for vulnerable young people to access.
First Aid Kits can contain anything the user feels would help them in the short term with issues they may be having. Play dough as a distraction for anxious hands; colouring books and Lego for concentration; books and movies as either a release or distraction from the triggers that make us feel worse. There is a little bit of everything in the kits.
We asked groups of young people what they felt would help them during their most vulnerable moments, and their feedback influenced what we bought. There are even anti-bacterial wipes and plasters in the kits. Nobody wants to think of a child harming themselves, but we must acknowledge that it happens. Telling them to stop or making them feel guilty about this form of release only elevates feelings of stress. By giving them the means to look after their injuries, we are offering them control of themselves, and autonomy over their bodies.
Words do provide comfort and guidance in our hour of need but we need something more to support our young people’s mental health when it is at its lowest. That is what the Mental Health First Aid Kits are for. They are not there to fix the problem; they are there to aid the individual. A first aider doesn’t come along to fix your leg when you break it; a first aider is a first responder. They are the first to offer support, and safety in your time of need, until the Calvary arrive. Our kits are the first response. The thing that we hope will help keep those in need ticking over, until they can have the conversations, and the help they need to have.