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FEATURE: Reverend Sissons on Mental Health and Wellbeing sabbatical

FEATURE: Reverend Sissons on Mental Health and Wellbeing sabbatical

A sabbatical is a most wonderful thing - as the name suggests, it's a rest (a 'sabbath') from your usual work. In some countries, such as Australia, every teacher is entitled to a sabbatical. How great is that?

Sadly, UK schools are not quite as enlightened. But the Church is: every seven years I can take a three-month sabbatical - and here's the good part -  I don't even have to do anything; I can just go for a long walk, chill or read some good books. The main idea is to have a break and re-charge the batteries.

So, after about a year of planning, in June I began my sabbatical and since it's rather hard for a chaplain to take the full three months off school (my colleagues love me but not that much) I agreed to take one half term and focus on something that would directly help school on my return.

So I chose to do some learning about Mental Health and Wellbeing. It's such a growing area of concern for society that I wanted to learn more about it.

Here are three good things that happened to me: I got trained as a Youth Mental Health First Aider; this doesn't make me an expert but gives me confidence to offer support and guidance if someone needs help.

I think more people at school should do this kind of course, because if people know there are trained people they can talk to about their mental health concerns then that helps us take a big step towards tackling the problem.

But every one of us has to realise the difference we can make to people who are struggling with mental health issues. We can greatly reduce or increase the stigma they feel simply by the way we talk to them or about them. Never underestimate the impact you can have on others.

I also learnt a new word on sabbatical: co-production. This is the idea that anything we do at school to improve emotional health and wellbeing will only succeed if the whole school is involved; that means staff, students and parents as well.

I was impressed by how girls at Altrincham Grammar had taken over the Wellbeing programme at their school and had really begun to make a difference.

Photo by Tony Bale

Watch them talk about their ideas here and ask yourself if there is anything you could do to promote wellbeing at Rydal Penrhos: www.manchester.ac.uk/discover/news/school-mental-health/.

I also went to some fantastic conferences in Manchester and London where people with all kinds of expertise shared their thoughts on how we can help people deal more positively with the pressures of modern life.

One statistic that stuck in my head is this: how happy we are is determined to a great extent by our genes (50%) and by our experiences in life (10%), but that still leaves 40% that is entirely down to the attitude we bring to life. We can make a big difference to our own lives and the lives of others by the way we choose to live.

The Reverend Nick Sissons.


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