Bolton School Sixth Form Boys

It Takes a Man to Feel

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In three separate sessions, visiting speaker Dick Moore spent the day at Bolton School Boys’ Division holding students, teachers, visitors and parents captivated with his personal insights into ‘dealing with your adolescent’. In a hard-hitting and captivating lecture, Dick recapped his “from the heart” story telling how he had been an English teacher, rugby coach, House Master at a Boarding School and Head Teacher before retiring after his wife told him he was becoming “grumpy and unpredictable”. He spoke of the joys and tribulations of bringing up four boys, explaining their personalities and recounting stories about them before revealing that one of them, Barney, aged 21, took his own life. Telling his story, in the hope that somebody in the audience might be able to help a young person in distress, was, he explained, his therapy. You can learn more about Dick’s experience in his excellent Tedx talk “Dancing or Drowning in the Rain.”

If Bolton School Boys’ Division comprises 1200 pupils, he told them, theoretically, 270 would suffer from depression at some stage of their lives, over 100 will be suffering from a diagnosable mental health problem, about 50 current boys will self-harm and about 46 will suffer from debilitating stress or anxiety disorders; these are the harsh statistics. He told how 11% of eating disorders are with boys and that 75% of all mental health problems start in adolescence with 50% of problems having developed by the age of 15. He revealed how American research has shown that the first two years of puberty is when children are most threatened and reminded us that girls start puberty at age 6 or 7 and boys at age 8 or 9 and that it is virtually over by age 15 or so. Dick also exhibited the ‘continuum of emotional wellbeing’ model and told how anyone below the mid-point will suffer up to a 30% loss in cognitive ability.

Whilst one in ten children suffer mental health issues at school, things become more acute at university where the figure is one in six. The reason for this, in Dick’s view, was that one-on-one mentoring and support is better in schools than at tertiary level, although some institutions offer outstanding provision

Dick espoused the notion that it is important that we let our young people fail and learn from their mistakes. The emotional part of their brain is fully developed by the age of 15 but it will be another ten years before they are experienced and worldly-wise – until then we have to accept that they will be making “high risk decisions with poor judgement”. He reminded the audience that everyone in the room will have failed at something in their life and that we need to let young people know that failure is allowed and achieving A* grades will not necessarily make them happy. We also have to impress upon young people that emotions and feelings are fluid and pass. He talked about the crippling effects of stress and anxiety, reciting the tale of a top Cambridge undergraduate who went from brilliant student to someone unable to function as he deliberated too much about delivering the perfect dissertation and never finished his degree.

The subject of self-harm was explored and the audience told that 13% of 15 and 16 year olds and three times more girls than boys will suffer with it.

Dick elaborated on the symptoms of depression and the difference between empathy and sympathy as explained by Brene Brown. Things to watch out for, over a prolonged period of time, included your child being tearful, tired, withdrawn, anxious and no longer enjoying hobbies. Elaborating on what we can do to help, he spoke of listening non-judgementally and finding the time to listen; he also felt that you might have to reveal something about yourself. He said that whilst many more women are diagnosed with depression and three times more women attempt suicide than men, three times more men succeed in taking their lives. The number of men committing suicide aged 17-35 years is higher than the number that die in road accidents, from AIDS and from violent crime put together.

In order to fight against this, Dick suggested we all need to accept our emotions and “talk, talk, talk”. Young men bottle up their emotions as they fear embarrassment but the message should be “it takes a man to feel”. For Dick, social awareness, self-management, relationship skills and responsible decision-making abilities were the key skills that schools should be teaching and more important than any academic subject.

Dick concluded his insightful and powerful presentation by saying he had “the arrogant wish that one of you say something to a young person who is facing a tsunami and convince them that there is sun beyond the blackness. This would be the silver lining to Barney’s black cloud.”

The presentation was full of lots of useful advice. He told the audience to tell your children to:

  • Laugh and smile
  • Eat well
  • Sleep well
  • Take exercise and fresh air
  • Don’t expect to be perfect
  • We fail, just get used to it
  • Do not believe that A*s are the panacea for happiness
  • Accept your emotions
  • Talk Talk Talk
  • Be kind to others
  • Be kind to yourself
  • Count your blessings

You can find information, resources and short films relating to self-harm on the Charlie Waller Memorial Trust web pages here.

You can learn more about depression through the short film I Had a Black Dog produced by the World health Organisation, and from the Young Minds website.

You can read Dick’s own story on the BBC website and on The Telegraph website.

If you have any concerns or wish to discuss any issues further, please do not hesitate to contact your son’s head of year. There is also a useful section for parents on the YoungMinds website.

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