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STRESSED pupils at a senior school in Bahrain have someone special to turn to when teenage angst becomes almost unbearable to handle on their own.
Christine Mannion became the first appointed school counsellor at St Christopher’s School and believes she is helping to make a difference during a difficult time for many young people.
The other notable coping challenge, nowadays, is social media. Its communication benefits are considered by many to be outweighed by the curse of online bullying, a scourge globally blamed for causing depression and, in worse case scenarios, even suicide. There are numerous cases of paedophile prowlers casting their net ever wider too.
“My main role is to listen to students in a non-judgmental and caring manner, assisting them in working through their problems. I try and equip students with a toolbox of skills to help them to deal with issues that they are currently facing and may face in the future.
“Having worked as a teacher for many years, I have first-hand experience of the importance of mental health and well-being and understand the importance of students knowing what to do if they experience any difficulties. During adolescence, students are trying to work out their identity and need extra support during this period.”
Students often call into the 32-year-old Irish expat’s office although some prefer to email her first. Concerned members of staff also refer pupils to her and then she sets up a convenient time to meet up.
“I have dealt with a range of issues with the most common being those relating to anxiety, family, self-esteem and stress,” she said.
Christine, a former teacher in Dubai, said that having previously worked in the region, she wanted to experience Bahrain and was drawn by the reputation of St Christopher’s and joined 18 months ago.
“The pastoral team along with the Learning Support Department offers excellent support and guidance to our students. I believe that I have added another layer of support for our students,” she said.
St Chris is a British curriculum school and Christine’s role is likely to be commonplace throughout the UK in the near future.
Plans to ‘transform’ attitudes to mental health, with a focus on children and young people, were recently announced by British Prime Minister Theresa May.
Figures show young people are affected disproportionately with over half of mental health problems starting by the age of 14 and 75 per cent by 18.
She said mental health had been ‘dangerously disregarded’ as secondary to physical health and changing that would go ‘right to the heart of our humanity’.
Every UK secondary school will be offered mental health first aid training to teach people how to identify symptoms and help those who may be developing a mental health issue.
Trials are taking place on strengthening links between schools and specialist staff, including a review of children and adolescent services.
“The well-being of all young people, including mental well-being, is crucial. It is essential that we give them the skills and knowledge so they are able to deal with their emotions,” said Christine, who holds a Postgraduate Diploma in School Counselling and a Masters of Education in Guidance.
Recent research and surveys published indicates that children are more troubled nowadays than in the past, she added.
“Compared to young people from previous generations, they face a range of different issues,” Christine explained. “Young people have to learn to deal with the pressures of growing up in a very different and fast-changing world; this includes the advent of social media.
“Adolescents can place a lot of self-worth on social media and perhaps don’t have the skills and knowledge to use it responsibly and effectively. They can often lack the resilience and communication skills to interact on a social media platform effectively.
“I am an advocate of encouraging young people to speak about any issues that are affecting them. I firmly believe that giving young people the opportunity to build resilience and increase their emotional intelligence is important as they are essential life skills.”
Christine recently gave the school’s senior staff members and its board of governors an update on the role she is playing. “The feedback I received was both positive and encouraging,” she said.
Nick Wilson, head of senior school, has been particularly impressed. “Christine has settled into our pastoral support and guidance structure seamlessly,” he said. “Our pastoral and guidance staff members continue to offer excellent support to our students for a range of issues. Christine’s role supplements the structure so that students can be referred to her when it is deemed beneficial.
“Students can also approach Christine directly if they wish to. The parents and pupils who have spoken directly to me have praised the work Christine has done and the support she has provided.”
Christine has a simple message to young people reading this article who may be struggling. “Ask for help and talk to someone. Do not isolate yourself. There is always someone who can help,” she said.