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Thea’s story: There is life beyond academic achievements

In this extended story from our Thinking differently manifesto, Anna Freud Young Champion, Thea, tells us in her own words why she thinks it’s important to create a more balanced school curriculum with mental health at the centre.

Participation at Anna Freud

My school was very academic and competitive. It was also very intense, and I didn’t understand the impact it was having on me as a person.

I couldn’t understand why I was feeling so empty, I stayed up for hours alone at night, crying and confused. It took time for me to realise that I did need help and my parents supported that.

Balance in schools is so important. We need to remove the toxic environment around tests and grading and firmly integrate mental health into the curriculum. We need to encourage the extracurricular and nourish those interests, they are what counts when you leave school.

My school experience

The school environment is really important. I’ve been to lots of different schools and I can see how it affects young people.

One of my schools was so focused on academics. There was no sport after GCSE level and no balance in the subjects we could study. A 92% test on a score was not enough and all the enjoyment and creativity was taken away.

It turned me into an obsessive perfectionist – which is never healthy. There was so much anxiety around work and stress, it starting coming out in physical displays like clicking my teeth and clenching my hands.

I saw other friends, too, having panic attacks and breakdowns.

How to improve the school environment

We need a more balanced curriculum in schools.

Mental health needs to be integrated within the curriculum rather than being taught as a single subject. This way we can build in more natural language around mental health so young people can better understand their emotions.

I’ve also found it really helpful being an Anna Freud Young Champion. I’ve been involved in lots of opportunities, and had the chance to get to know other young people who all have mental health lived experience. I love being able to talk about mental health with people who are passionate for different reasons.

I’m now in my final year of university and working on my dissertation. I want to be a clinical psychologist or psychotherapist and I am passionate about making mental health support more available for everyone.

Thinking differently - a word from Anna Freud

Thinking differently is Anna Freud’s first ever manifesto. It brings young voices, scientific insight and research together to say what needs to change in the approach to children and young people’s mental health.

Our five-point plan details how we believe we can close the gap in children and young people’s mental health through a renewed focus on prevention and early intervention.

Within schools we’re calling on political parties, policy makers and funders to adopt a whole-school approach to mental health and wellbeing by:

  • Creating a more inclusive school system by promoting educational models that value social, emotional and physical development as well as academic achievement.

  • Improving access to preventative mental health programmes in schools for children and young people with mild-to-moderate mental health needs.

  • Including content in initial teacher training on how to build good mental wellbeing across the school community and provide annual training opportunities for all school staff and leaders.

  • Investing in programmes delivered in partnership with schools that help parents understand and support their children’s mental wellbeing.

Contact us if you want to know more about our five-point plan.

We’re currently recruiting for new Young Champions and Parent Champions. Read what’s involved and check out our Participation Strategy to learn more about our commitment to meaningful youth voice.