Ex pupil tells school of mental health struggles

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A past pupil who struggled with depression and suicidal thoughts before turning her life around has returned to her old school to deliver a powerful and moving message of hope to a new generation of students.

Lisa Duffield, who left Ripon Grammar School to move to Australia after her parents’ marriage broke down, now works as a professional therapist, specialising in health and wellbeing.

Her honest and moving talk was one of a number of student well-being activities - including workshops and fitness, yoga and meditation sessions - held throughout the week at the school, which has recently opened a new pastoral care centre.

Ms Duffield told hundreds of lower school students how she was extremely unhappy at home from the age of 14: “My parents’ marriage was breaking down. There was alcohol, arguments and sometimes violence. My schoolwork suffered.”

Things didn’t improve when she moved to Australia with her mother and two younger siblings while her father and two older brothers remained in England.

“I came back to the UK but couldn’t win, wherever I was I had separation anxiety. I turned to comfort eating, which made me feel worse, and started to have suicidal feelings.”

The turning point came when she told friends about her feelings and they advised her to talk to a counsellor.

“I am telling you this story to explain to you how you need to reach out. Don’t suffer in silence.”

She pointed out that one in four teenagers will suffer mental health issues in any given year: “Stress and anxiety are the most common issues and if these are not addressed, they will get worse.

“Communication is key. If you are struggling, speak to your friends or parents or talk to staff at school. There is lots of help online too.

“And if you have a friend who seems to be struggling, just ask them how they are today. Listen and communicate in a non-judgemental way.”

Deputy head Helen Keelan-Edwards, who has organised a well-being survey of all students at the school in order to help improve mental health provision further, told the pupils: “Take time to care for one another.

“We all have issues and sometimes find it hard to cope. There is no stigma attached to it, so don’t be afraid to get help.”

Students have organised activities to raise money for the charity Young Minds.

*Lisa Duffield founded the Lisa Duffield Centre for health and wellbeing in Harrogate. For more information, visit www.lisaduffieldcentre.co.uk