Getting Grounded! Elgin Academy’s Mental Health Awareness Project

Juno Dawson’s book on teenage mental health, Mind Your Head, and her frank and empathetic approach inspired us to investigate mental health stigma and discrimination with one of our S3 classes at Elgin Academy.

We proposed a cross-curricular project for our pupils, uniting English, PSE, Art and the library, over four weeks, called Getting Grounded! This project focused on friendships and about talking freely and openly with friends about worries and anxieties. These feelings and the importance of friendships to mental health were to be captured in the form of writing and art work in a graphic/comic format, with an exhibition for a gathering of family and friends during the winter term.

Juno Dawson’s Authors Live broadcast in June 2016 was extremely exciting for us. We had been selected to be Authors Live Champions and were delighted to see our students’ questions, posed as tweets, answered live on air by Juno Dawson.  The questions were thoughtful, sensitive and perceptive.

Feedback from pupils after watching Authors Live was very positive with pupils saying they found Juno inspiring and the event very informative. It also sparked debate amongst pupils, with one group commenting after watching Juno’s Authors Live: ‘We think that mental health issues, particularly issues around self-harm should be taught from P5, all the way through to your last days of secondary school. We strongly think that adults should be made aware of issues affecting young people’.

We strongly think that adults should be made aware of mental health issues affecting young people.

We subsequently forged links with external agencies and invited them into school to partner us in this project. We asked local organisations to deliver a workshop with the pupils. Tracy Adams from SAMH Moray and Heidi Tweedie from Moray Wellbeing Hub introduced ideas such as advocacy and self-empowerment to our young people and offered them the opportunity explore these concepts and ask questions.

Following these productive sessions, graphic novelist Adam Murphy held a workshop in the art of making comics with the pupils. Adam shared his skills and expertise with the students, who developed their own mental health stories in a comics format.

We have been collaborating with the Guidance Team and keeping them informed of progress within the project. We have also discussed how our colleagues will take the outcomes of the project forward.

As of October 2016, we are collating student responses and feedback, art work and writing and are negotiating with colleagues in the Art department for space to display the project outcomes. This material will document the developing skills and experience of our young people during the lifetime of the project.

From our perspectives as teacher and librarian, the project has been extremely interesting: we have seen our students develop their understanding and confidence and this awareness has also impacted upon us as educational practitioners. We have a better understanding of pressures facing our young people today and now look forward to seeing how our pupils’ learning informs the work of the Guidance Team.

Watch Juno Dawson's Authors Live and download resources with activities and guidance for exploring issues of bullying and mental health with pupils.

Take a look at these book lists for fiction and non-fiction titles which tackle mental health issues.

Take a look at the gallery below to see some of the artwork produced by pupils at Elgin Academy

Shelagh Toonen and Douglas Clark

Shelagh Toonen and Douglas Clark are Librarian and English Teacher at Elgin Academy in Moray.