Welcome to the “next chapter” of my life… being a voice and an advocate for mental health awareness and suicide prevention, especially pertaining to our younger generation of students and student-athletes.
Getting men to speak up and reach out for help and assistance is one of my passions. Us men need to not suffer in silence or drown our sorrows in alcohol, hang out at bars and strip joints, or get involved with drug use.
Having gone through a recent bout of depression and suicidal thoughts myself, I realize now, that I can make a huge difference in the lives of so many by sharing my story, and by sharing various resources I come across as I work in this space. http://bit.ly/JamesMentalHealthArticle
Emily Polling, who is 27, who said she tried to take her own life, has returned to her family to try to recover her health.
“Something in my brain just slipped and years and years of pressure blew up and exploded,” she said.
“I tried to take my own life at university.
“I dropped out of my Master’s degree and just collapsed.
“In short, I completely burnt out at 27.
“The overriding issue was the suffocating pressure to succeed.”
Now Emily has returned to Seaford and has launched the Bang The Desk campaign, urging the Government to make changes.
Her petition seeks to remove formal testing for everyone under 18 and introduce an hour of wellbeing in the curriculum every day.
She also wants to start and end each school day with ten minutes of mindfulness and provide more mental health support across all education institutions.
And she wants increased funding for the arts, and better wages and support for teachers. The petition has already attracted hundreds of signatures.
The aim is to get enough support to trigger a Government response.
Emily also plans to approach Lewes MP Maria Caulfield.
Her campaign is backed by family friend Trevor Weeks, who runs the East Sussex Wildlife Rescue and Ambulance Service.
He said: “I am fully supporting this campaign as I suffered from depression while I was at school and college, which went completely ignored.”
“We are talking about the mental health of our future generation,” said Emily, who lives with her parents, Jane, 60, and Michael, 59, and her 21-year-old brother.
“We need to take these small steps to ensure that no more young people feel pushed to breaking point and that no more young people commit suicide or fall into a pit of despair as a result of stress.”
She said the pressure intensified when she moved to her secondary school, Seaford Head Community College, which is now Seaford Head School.
At the time, it was in special measures, with a high turnover of staff and the unexpected departure of its principal “[hindering] developments in leadership and management”, according to its Ofsted report.
“When I was there, it was not a good school,” said Emily.
“I really struggled.
“And I was not the most popular kid in class – I was nervous and shy.”
Emily’s father also became ill during this time and she was “tearing her hair out” by the time she began her GCSEs.
She experienced her first breakdown when she was studying for her A-levels at college in Lewes after suffering from the eating disorders anorexia and bulimia.
“Your brain does not work very well when you have an eating disorder,” she said.
“I was not coping at all because I could not understand why I was not doing as well as everyone.”
However, Emily landed a place to train in journalism at university in Leicester.
“I probably shouldn’t have gone,” she admitted.
“I really struggled, but I forced myself to ignore it and keep going.
“I got a high 2:1 degree but I didn’t stop to think it was good.
“I tore myself apart for not getting a first.”
Emily’s mother Jane, 60, said the whole family has been affected by Emily’s trauma.
“There’s a sense that we should have known but it’s not always obvious,” she said.
“We have this sense of guilt that we were not there – we were such a long way away when she was ill.
“We were aware of the pressures at school.
“I’m very anti exams, I don’t think it’s necessary.
“For some children, it is too much pressure.”
Emily has spent the past few weeks at home recovering from her ordeal before launching her campaign.
She said: “It’s time to bang the desk and change the curriculum.
“Ongoing assessment is far better than exams, which are really just a memory game.
“Less pressure, less stress, more time to be young, more time to enjoy life and
more time to experience the magic of learning.”
Bob Ellis, who for the past three years has been the headteacher at Seaford Head School, which was rated Outstanding by Ofsted in 2017, describes the school as “a totally different place now”.
He said: “We focus on making our children happy.
“Our focus is on every individual and our sixth formers mentor younger students.
“Mental health is a growing concern.
“Everyone who is involved in education in whatever capacity has a responsibility to do everything we can to help and support young people, especially when they are at such an important stage of their lives.
“Anything that raises awareness can only be a good thing.”
Seaford Head School has been taking part in a pilot scheme with The Youth Counselling Project, a school-based counselling service, to give students one-to-one counselling with therapists.
Visit bangthedesk.com for more information about the campaign and to sign the petition.