Not patients but STUDENTS

The education program at Jacaranda Place (Queensland’s Adolescent Extended Treatment Centre), like the Barrett School at Wacol before it, has so many significant benefits. But the value that can be connected to the challenges that so many young people face – not only those with severe and complex mental health issues – centres on how those between 13 and 25 see themselves.

To have a school onsite with permanent classrooms and staff means that for large portions of each weekday, young people who might otherwise feel like ‘patients’ can identify as ‘STUDENTS’. STUDENTS like their siblings and their peers. Not stuck at home. Not someone with an illness that some services haven’t understood. Students. With a team of teachers. And regular activities.
That can make a HUGE difference.

Especially in a world where mental health issues can still be viewed very differently to physical health issues. And experiencing a stay in a healthcare facility will be yet another challenge to deal with in a life that’s already more than difficult.

So being a ‘student’ can be a relief.  It can take the pressure away from being a person with severe health problems that require treatment. It can give a young person purpose while restoring part of their identity that has been lost during a period of disengagement from learning due to their health issues. And it can help them to feel that they’re part of a group and not isolated and alone.

And there’s another significant aspect to being a student in a service staffed by teaching professionals with a real understanding of severe youth mental health issues and the impacts of those. And that’s to do not with how the young people see themselves but how they feel because of the ways that others have seen them. And responded to them.

Teenagers. Adolescents. Youth. Whatever label is applied if it’s by someone of a different generation, it too often seems that the assignment of being at that particular stage of life comes with assumptions. And sometimes unfair judgements. That a person might be moody. Or selfish. Or irresponsible. Or even defiant.

Certainly as someone grows from ‘child’ to ‘adult’, the stage where each of us has been neither can be a turbulent one. Fraught with change and strong emotion. Dealing with physical changes and all the implications of those. Where we can find ourselves given responsibilities that are tedious compared with a more carefree childhood … but not allowed independence in the areas it can feel most important. Testing boundaries. Working out who you really are and will be through your life. The turmoil of all that should make the fact that so many young people remain civil quite surprising. Instead however, those of us who have been through it ourselves can have selective memory and instead of empathy with those going through that period of life, some adults can even throw out the kinds of slurs that feel unjust to those trying to just get through the days:

“Attention-seeking” “Troublemaker” “Drama Queen”

And sometimes those labels have come from professionals from whom help has been sought for severe, even life-threatening, mental health issues. So of course that can then make any environment that puts the focus on those issues a place that evokes mistrust. Resistance. And of course anxiety.

So to have reached somewhere that they’re finally understood by not just healthcare professionals but teachers is an important start for young people who have been dealing with a number of serious and undeserved challenges. And to have that understanding mean that at their own pace, they are supported to attend classes and work on projects while others like them are doing the same can, to some degree, liberate them from an aspect of their mental burden. At least for a while. And that can be significant after all that they’ve been through.

Jacaranda Place has a team of educators with experience working with children and young people for whom health issues have become a barrier to learning. And those teachers place fundamental importance on respecting each of their students. So much so that it is the young person who will determine their goals while they are at the AETC. With a philosophy that every attendee will leave having achieved something, it’s clear that a positive approach with a clear understanding of individuality underscores the Jacaranda Place education program. So by listening, hearing and responding to the unique needs of each young person while also viewing them as part of an affirming collective group is the balance that we all probably sought as we lurched our way through that turbulent stage of life.

We know that understanding and enthusiastic teachers can make a considerable impact on the lives of their students. But if those teachers are empowering young people who have felt overlooked, minimised, even worthless … then a young life can suddenly take a productive path that was previously not even on the map.

So we pay tribute to the education team at Jacaranda Place AETC as they model an attitude that many of us could learn from WHILE they provide invaluable support in facilitating the achievement of appropriate goals by young people simultaneously dealing with intensive health treatment. Queensland is lucky to have dedicated professionals as a key element of the AETC multidisciplinary team who are also willing to share what they learn with their colleagues throughout the state.

You can read more about the Jacaranda Place education program here and about the role of AETC schools more generally here.


To read our two previous posts on our month-long focus on education, go to:

Education for Young People with Severe Mental Health Issues (5 Oct)

And the GOOD NEWS is … (9 Oct)

 

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