School play urges mental health talk

Westleigh High School students working on the play about mental health
Westleigh High School students working on the play about mental health

School pupils have staged a brave performance aiming to break the stigma of talking about mental health among young people.

Year nine students from Westleigh High School hope that their dramatic endeavour, called #TalkAboutIt, will give fellow youngsters the knowledge to spot the signs of mental illness in others as well as themselves, and the confidence to seek support with their own battles.

The central plot focuses on breaking the stigma of talking about mental health among young people, particularly during the summer exam period when stress and anxiety are running high among teenagers.

The school’s drama teacher Daniella Fraternale spoke about how the story had allowed both students and staff to open up about their often limited experiences with mental health.

“A lot of kids weren’t sure about what mental health is, and what it entailed,” she said.

“We talked about the signs and the support available. We looked at statistics of kids hurting themselves and taking the wrong paths because of not knowing about the support available to them.”

She added: “There’s that stigma against it, that they don’t talk about, but after the performance they were blown away.

“I think a lot of them can relate to the situations portrayed in the performance, which is a good thing. It’s good that they know they can talk about it.

“We are making students aware of what can cause mental health problems. It’s about reaching out, even just putting your arm around someone in the corridor and asking if they’re okay.

“It can be something tiny or something major, but it’s about getting over that barrier of speaking out before it gets worse.”

As well as putting in hours of research into the statistics behind mental health, the young actors also spoke to their fellow students about their experiences, and how they got help.

This was something which Miss Fraternale believed added to the quality of the show.

“To portray what they’ve portrayed is phenomenal! They are only young students,” she said.

“The plot was about breaking the stigma and getting rid of that myth that these kids are lunatics of off their heads. It’s about taking that step back and thinking ‘why are they being like that, why are they crying?’”

The performance was followed by a Q&A session in which pupils were able to express their opinions on the subject, with many admitting it had been an eye-opening experience for them.

Miss Fraternale went on: “We just want as many kids as possible to realise what mental health is. It’s about having a healthy mind and not being hard on yourselves.”