Bolton School Senior Boys

Natasha Devon Talk Promotes Good Mental Health

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Parents, Sixth Form students and staff at Bolton School were privileged to meet Natasha Devon MBE, writer and activist, who spoke eloquently and insightfully about how to promote good mental health and self-esteem. She told the audience that in any given year, one in four of us can potentially suffer from mental health problems, which are not necessarily easy to recognise, unlike issues with our physical well-being which we are more likely to acknowledge. Natasha talked about how, in 2006, she learnt from 500 teenagers that some of the issues they thought were missing from PSHE lessons were mental health, body image, academic anxiety and bullying and how this list has now been augmented by social media and online porn. She spoke of her own battle with a panic disorder from the age of 10 when she ‘swallowed her feelings’ after the death of her nine-year old cousin and of how she struggled with an eating disorder until the age of 25. She spoke of the huge mental health benefits offered by sport, art, music, talking, dance and drama and how they can help transform our negative emotions into another form of energy. Natasha encouraged everyone to try and find half an hour each day for such activities, comparing it to the equivalent of our five fruits and vegetables per day. Natasha explained how her review of the English language revealed that we quite literally do not have the vocabulary to express our emotions clearly. She told how other languages have multiple ways of describing emotions, she particularly loved the German word ‘Schadenfreude’ and how their language has 15 different words to describe types of anger, the Greek language, she noted, has, very sensibly, four ways of explaining different types of love.

Natasha told of how she works with the Men and Boys Coalition and consults with them on reducing rates of male suicide in the UK. She recognised that telling young males to talk and open up about their feelings can be challenging. Although not all males open up easily about their emotions, she shared some useful insights she had learnt from a PE teacher; he observed that walking and talking alongside students, rather than sitting opposite them, can be a much more effective way of communicating. She also told how many mental health problems stem from a lack of one or more of the following feelings: belonging, love, purpose, a sense of achievement and being understood.

Natasha finished by talking about her ‘Where’s Your Head At?’ campaign, which aims to change the law in order to improve the mental health of the nation by ensuring employers look after the wellbeing of their workforce. So far, she has over 200,000 signatures including 60 MPs and 50 CEOs.

Natasha Devon tours schools and colleges throughout the UK, delivering talks as well as conducting research on mental health, body image, gender and social equality. Natasha regularly speaks at Parliament and gives evidence to the Education and Health Select Committees, representing the interests of teenagers and teachers. In 2015 she was awarded an MBE for her services to young people. She writes regularly for the Guardian, is a former columnist for Cosmopolitan Magazine and currently has a weekly column in the Times Educational Supplement.


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