Addressing Mental Health in Schools: An Interview with Catriona Steell

In June 2016 Theatre Nemo was approached by Trinity High School to enquire if we could work in partnership with the aim of improving the mental health and wellbeing outcomes for their S2 students.

After meeting with the school staff it was clear that there was growing concern around the rise in poor mental health within the student population. Bringing Theatre Nemo’s experience and unique creative approach to engagement and exploring mental health topics both partners agreed to move forward. A highly succesful pilot scheme  providing Drama, Taiko Drumming and Songwriting  activities followed. Delivered over 10 weeks to appoximately 200 pupils the project had dramatic positive effects on pupils confidence and their awareness of mental health issues. Funding has been secured to roll out a larger scale version of the project in May 2018.

One of the teachers who initially had the idea of exploring mental-health issues with pupils and reached out to Theatre Nemo was Catriona Steell. In the interview below she outlines her thoughts on mental-health in schools,how she felt this years project went and her hopes for the project coming in 2018.

Hi Catriona, thank you for agreeing to this interview. I wonder if you could start by giving us a bit of background about yourself and what got you interested in mental- health issues?

I have been teaching for eight years now mainly, at Trinity High School in South Lanarkshire. Over that time I’ve developed really great relationships with pupils. For me teaching is about seeing progress in young people, it’s about caring for them as an individual. This is why I was really keen to get involved in an educational and creative mental-health project. I have had quite a lot of pupils coming up to me and talking about feeling low or feeling anxious. It was really important from me to be able to give the correct advice and help.

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What inspired you to start putting this particular project together?

I think for me, I was just aware that there was a lot of coverage and stats in the media regarding mental-health and young people. One of the stats that I read said that approximately three pupils in every class will have a mental health problem now or in the future. For me as a teacher it was something that I just couldn’t ignore, it wasn’t going to go away. I think it’s something that we need to address inside and outside class through these types of projects. The project we did with Theatre Nemo really inspired me to get more involved and look into different therapies that we can offer to pupils who are suffering from mental health issues.

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Why do you think personally that it is important for pupils to speak about and learn about mental-health?

Children are our future and a lot of them are experiencing mental health issues themselves or their experiencing it at home with a family member or friend. No matter what walk of life you come from or how old you are, you’re likely to have some experience of mental health whether personally or indirectly through a family member or friend. I think it’s really important that we remove the stigma and speak about mental health openly as we do with other illnesses. We should encourage our young people that there is nothing to be ashamed of and it’s okay to talk about these things. It is important they know that mental health issues are something that is okay to share and discuss.

That’s really interesting that you bring up what I guess you could label as ‘parity of esteem’ between mental illness and physical illness. Is that something you always felt or is that a conclusion you’ve come to over time?

In preparation for the Theatre Nemo project earlier this year I put up two slides. One slide asked the pupils to write down everything they associated with physical health the other was what they associated with mental health. What was really fascinating from those results was that pupils largely for physical health
wrote down things like exercise diet and several other ways to prevent poor physical health. However when they wrote about mental health though it was all negative things about what happens when it goes wrong and they didn’t have many answers as to what to do to make it right.

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What do you think the pupils took away from the various projects Theatre Nemo offered like Drama, Song writing and Taiko drumming?

I think the main thing from the pupils was the incredible positive feedback I got. You could feel that all of the sessions had a really positive energy. The pupils were happy to participate and they felt like they could speak openly and freely. It just had such an incredible effect on their self-esteem. At the showcase we had pupils up on stage in front of their parents who never would have dreamed of performing. They were so confident and that for me was just an amazing progression to watch in those young people. We had a young girl who got up at the end of the performance and talked very openly about her own insecurities and body image issues. To do that in front of a group of adults in such an open way, I mean, that just wouldn’t have come about if they hadn’t participated in the projects.

What do you think Trinity High School and Theatre Nemo have taken from this year’s project and how can we use what we have learned to make next years even better?

We are really excited because next year’s project is actually going to be on a much bigger scale than this year’s. This year was a pilot so we’ve had two groups of S2 pupils and, although we just loved it, one thing that we felt was that it was a shame that not every pupil in S2 got the chance to participate. For next year we’re hoping that it is going to be for all S2 pupils so that it is giving everybody a chance. We are also going to be doing the project and a more intensive way, there will be two full days of taster workshops followed by a week of workshops leading up to a final performance. There will be a wider variety of workshops involved as well, we are just really excited to get started!

Is there anything else you would like to add to what you’ve already said?

I think the main thing is to make sure that the pupils have a good understanding of the project before it starts. Such great relationships were built up between our pupils and the theatre Nemo staff that there is already a real buzz about the project an excitement there. I think the fact that the pupils saw the project and saw the amazing and result means that there’s less nervousness in getting involved this time.

Brilliant, thanks so much.

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Yvette Young Performance

We were excited to have the talented Yvette Young all the way from California perform a set and answer questions for our guitar group recently. Yvette has made a name for herself as a unique songwriter and respected guitarist. She has toured all over the world and is endorsed by Strandberg Guitarworks and EMG Pickups. Here are some words she had to say about the importance of guitar in her life;

I took up guitar to do something for myself. I guess a lot of people don’t know but I actually taught myself guitar in a hospital. I was really sick and I was stuck there for like a year and I wanted a way to vent my emotions. I was really depressed at the time so a lot of my lyrics were real bleak but I firmly maintain that if I didn’t have guitar or song writing as an out let I would probably not be here today”I took up guitar to do something for myself. I guess a lot of people don’t know but I actually taught myself guitar in a hospital. I was really sick and I was stuck there for like a year and I wanted a way to vent my emotions. I was really depressed at the time so a lot of my lyrics were real bleak but I firmly maintain that if I didn’t have guitar or song writing as an out let I would probably not be here today

The next final project including performance and visual arts viewing is on 13th December at St Andrews in the square. We encourage all to come and see the fabulous achievements of the previous 10 weeks.

Visual Arts at Theatre Nemo

Further to the success of the August performance the Visual Arts group are pressing forward with their Theatre Nemo journey under the guidance of facilitator Rachel. The group has been exploring the medium of simple paper and created a wonderful collection of 3 dimensional objects, abstract sculpture and beautiful light boxes. These projects are interactive and have introduced new skills to the group.

“I am one of the visual art facilitators at Theatre Nemo. For the last 10 weeks I have been working with an amazing group of people…
Although these projects are very beautiful and it’s such an achievement to show case them in this fab setting, I would like to emphasise how important the journey of the workshops are. People not only want to come, for some it’s vital!”
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The tutors and volunteers encourage regular feedback from attendees to insure the workshops are beneficial and we are constantly improving.
One group member expressed that if he knew he had regular workshops, indefinitely, he’s pretty sure it would help to keep him well. He also expressed that it’s an opportunity for people to be in an environment by where they can support each other.
Another attendee expressed that they felt they could talk freely about the daily challenges of suffering from poor mental health, without feeling under the spotlight.

This feedback resonates the fact that mental health issues are still a very taboo subject for the mainstream and how important the workshops that Theatre Nemo offer, actually are. These workshops are not only beneficial (and sometimes vital) to attendees but also for family members and their support network. The feedback from Visual Arts workshops have included helping attendees that are shy/withdrawn or who have a difficulty expressing themselves within social situations to improve ability to express emotion and communicate effectively.

Funding and volunteers are vital to the ongoing progress in Theatre Nemo. This input will not only provide us with an opportunity to explore new artistic avenues and encourage new attendees, it will also increase visibility for us and our business contacts. This financial and artistic input insures that we are on track to achieve our goals of helping to improve Glasgow’s mental health and putting on a fabulous final project!

The next final project including performance and visual arts viewing is on 13th December at St Andrews in the square. We encourage all to come and see the fabulous achievements of the previous 10 weeks.

 

 

Dan Stevenson Performance

We were very lucky to have the talented guitarist and touring musician Dan Stevenson along to perform and discuss his approach to guitar at our Tuesday guitar group last week. He was able to introduce the group to some really interesting ways of experimenting and exploring creative ways of making sounds on your guitar. Dan also shared some insight into his relationship with guitar and his metal health/ Well being:

“Music and running are the two things I do to keep my head straight. If I don’t do those two things I end up in a pretty crappy place. I’ve definitely always needed something to anchor myself a bit in terms of well-being. I actually found that out by accident, I went through an episode a couple of years ago where I was just having a really bad time. I went to go talk to someone who advised me to do something that gets a lot of negativity out of your system. Picking up the guitar a lot more and playing songs and playing with bands as well as running has really helped. I feel like if I didn’t have those two things I would be in a very different place so I think it’s really important to have things like that.”

We will be putting up some video footage of Dan’s performance soon!


John “Sideshow Man” at INSTALL 2

This footage was taking from our showcase (Install 2) in August. It was one of Johns first ever performances on his own here is some of what he had to say about the experience:

“It was good to be able to perform and I was really chuffed to be asked to represent the group. I felt that by performing my own song I was able to show what the guitar club is about. When I started the group I guess I was just looking for something that would get me back on the path to getting out there and socialising with people again. Throughout my time in the group I feel like my confidence has increased both through noticing my improvement on guitar and positive reinforcement from the tutor and other members along the way. The fact that I’ve got to the point where I am writing my own songs on the guitar and happy enough with them to showcase them to an audience shows what can be achieved if you get involved with something like the guitar club. Also in a sense I was proud to show that what Isabel (co-founder of Theatre Nemo) started almost 20 years ago! On the night of the performance I felt really nervous but I’m glad I did it as I got lots of positive feedback”