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)

 

Education for Young People with Severe Mental Health Issues

Today is World Teachers Day.*

Saturday is World Mental Health Day.*

So at severeyouthmentalhealth.org, we’ll be focussing on EDUCATION for young people with severe mental health issues throughout October.

Highlighting what’s available and what’s needed for young people in this area is relevant anytime. But the global pandemic has made this – like many other things – an urgent issue. The theme of 2020 World Teachers Day is, appropriately:

Leading in crisis, reimagining the future
So this October, we’ll be paying tribute to the truly amazing educators who are already showing the way in specialised education for young people for whom mental health issues have rendered every other education option ineffective. We’ll shine a light on the best but also ask “where’s the rest“?

In future posts we’ll look at Support Schools, the AETC education program and ways educators can share insights across their network. We’ll look at Queensland and see if young people across the state are being properly supported to keep learning through severe mental health issues and a global pandemic.

For those who have disengaged from education because you felt misunderstood, … because even modified, distance ed or other services couldn’t keep you learning, … it’s important that you know that the problem is not with you. Teachers have shown us they can be flexible, resourceful and mindful of individual needs in 2020. But to properly support students with severe mental health issues, teachers need to know more about those young people and the programs that will work to keep them on a path where progress is inevitable. In time. SO the service providers – government and private – must ensure that teachers have that specialised knowledge and that there are places with appropriate environments where individual goals are the foundation for expert staff to provide targeted programs.

But the most important place to start is to hear from the young people themselves about what they need. And the struggle they can go through trying to find it.

Health Consumers Queensland has just released some short videos created by those in their severe youth mental health consumer and carer network. Young people and those close to them have shared their experiences in the hope that education providers will listen. And learn. And then enable their dedicated teaching staff to deliver the programs that can mean the difference for young people affected between a life of dependence and isolation and one where independence, purpose and personal satisfaction are a reality.

Click here to watch Young People with Severe Mental Health Issues: Experiences with Healthcare & Education (9 mins)

And please share this post or the video link so that with understanding will come better services and greater support for those whose lives are so severely challenging.


World Teachers Day will be celebrated by the Queensland Education Department on 30 October and State Education Week will be 25 – 31 October.

Queensland Mental Health Week is 10 – 18 October.